He was indicted back in January for making “straw donations” to former GOP Senate candidate Wendy Long, pleaded not guilty, and insisted he was innocent to reporters who asked. His trial was set to begin today.

Time for a last-minute plea bargain.

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty Tuesday to using “straw donors” to make excessive contributions to a U.S. Senate candidate in the 2012 election…

“Mr. D’Souza agreed to accept responsibility for having urged two close associates to make contributions of $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 Senate campaign of Wendy Long and then reimbursing them for their contributions,” his attorney Benjamin Brafman said in a statement Tuesday…

Brafman called D’Souza a “fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive and responsible life.”

He was initially charged with two counts, one for violating campaign finance law and the other for lying to the FEC, but the second will presumably be dropped now. The innocence talk aside, I don’t know if he ever had a legal defense. Ed was skeptical too when he blogged about this four months ago. D’Souza’s lawyer never denied that he had made the straw donations; his “defense” was that D’Souza was simply trying to help out Long, an old classmate from college, and that he had perhaps acted out of “misguided friendship” but certainly not “with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever.” Since the whole point of using straw donors is to skirt federal contribution limits, I’m … not sure how he could have lacked criminal intent. But that was their story. Until today.

So, yeah, I don’t think D’Souza ever intended to go to trial. I think his strategy was a political, not legal, one: By complaining loudly in the media that he was being unfairly targeted by the DOJ because he’s a prominent critic of their boss, he hoped to turn up the heat to the point where they’d decide that a ticky-tack violation like this one wasn’t worth the grief and would drop the case. Now that the day of the trial’s arrived, he realized that that strategy wouldn’t work and finally gave up — and yet still got a deal from them, despite the seemingly open-and-shut nature of the case. Maybe that media campaign paid off after all. And in fairness to the guy, it’s perfectly possible to believe (a) that he’s guilty and (b) that he was unfairly targeted anyway, given how rare prosecutions of campaign finance violations are and how ludicrously high his bail was set. They wanted to make an example of him, and he made it easy.

Which brings us to our exit question, one that Ed asked back in January but which has gone unanswered: Given the myriad ways people can shovel money at candidates these days, from bundling to Super PAC “dark money,” why would D’Souza have tried something as ham-handed as straw donors? If he was intent on wasting tens of thousands of dollars on a doomed Republican campaign in deep-blue New York, he could have just started a PAC and been perfectly safe. What a weird case.

Update: D’Souza had filed a motion to dismiss the charges alleging selective prosecution by the DOJ. When he lost on that motion last week, he was effectively out of options.