In 1957 New York City, Rudolf Abel is arrested and charged with spying for the Soviet Union. Insurance lawyer James B. Donovan is appointed to defend Abel, so that Abel’s trial will be seen as fair. Committed to the principle that the accused deserves a vigorous defense, he mounts the best defense of Abel he can, declining along the way to cooperate in the CIA’s attempts to induce him to violate the confidentiality of his communications with his client.
Abel is convicted, but Donovan convinces the judge to spare Abel the death penalty because Abel had been serving his country honorably, and he might prove useful for a future prisoner exchange; Abel is sentenced to 30 years. Donovan appeals the conviction to the Supreme Court based on the lack of a search warrant for the seizure of Abel’s ciphers and photography equipment. For his principled stand Donovan and his family are harassed, including shots being fired at their home. The conviction is upheld.
In 1960, Gary Powers, a pilot in the CIA’s top secret U-2 spy plane program, is shot down over the USSR. He is captured and sentenced in a show trial to ten years confinement, including three years in prison.
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