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Pence hires outside counsel to deal with Russia probe inquiries

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attends a healthcare listening session at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Vice President Mike Pence has hired outside legal counsel to help with both congressional committee inquiries and the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.

The vice president's office said Thursday that Pence has retained Richard Cullen, a Richmond, Virginia-based lawyer and chairman of McGuire Woods who previously served as a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Pence's decision comes less than a month after Trump hired his own private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, to help navigate the investigations related to the Russia probe, and a day after The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is widening his investigation to examine whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.

"I can confirm that the Vice President has retained Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods to assist him in responding to inquiries by the special counsel," said Jarrod Agen, a Pence spokesman, in an emailed statement. "The Vice President is focused entirely on his duties and promoting the President's agenda and looks forward to a swift conclusion of this matter."

Cullen will not be paid with taxpayer money, an aide said. Cullen referred questions to the vice president's office.

The process of hiring a lawyer took several weeks and included interviews with several candidates, a Pence aide said. The vice president made his final decision earlier this week.

The vice president's office said Pence's decision to retain Cullen underscores his desire to fully cooperate with any inquiries related to the Russia probe, and is in line with what Trump has done in hiring Kasowitz.

Kasowitz has told some White House personnel that they don't need to hire their own lawyers, according to one person familiar with some of the legal discussions that have occurred inside the White House. But Pence's move to hire an outside attorney could set off a scramble among other West Wing aides - many of whom are already bracing for subpoenas - to do the same, even if only as a protective measure.

Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general, served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia under President George H. W. Bush and worked on President George W. Bush's legal team during the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.

His other high-profile clients have included Tom DeLay, the former Republican majority leader who was investigated by the Department of Justice for his relationship with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Elin Nordegren, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods, in her divorce from the golf star; and former senator Paul Trible, R-Va., during the Iran-Contra investigation.

Trump and the White House have long maintained there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and more recently denied that the president in any way tried to obstruct justice.

As Trump's No. 2 and as head of the transition team, Pence has increasingly found himself drawn into the widening Russia investigation. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, originally misled Pence about his contacts with Russian officials - incorrect claims that Pence himself then repeatedly publicly. The vice president was kept in the dark for nearly two weeks about Flynn's misstatements, before learning the truth in a Washington Post report.

Trump ultimately fired Flynn for misleading the vice president.

There were also news reports that Flynn's lawyers had alerted Trump's transition team that Flynn was under federal investigation for his secret ties to the Turkish government as a paid lobbyist - a claim the White House disputes. And aides to Pence, who was running the transition team, said the vice president was never informed of Flynn's overseas work with Turkey, either.

The president has come under further scrutiny for his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, a decision Trump later seemed to imply was related, in part, to the Russia probe that Comey was then overseeing. At the time, Pence - along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior adviser Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Counsel Donald McGahn - was one of the small group of senior advisers the president consulted as he mulled his decision.

A sitting vice president choosing to hire an outside lawyer is not without precedent. Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president, retained outside counsel when he came under investigation for charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy. He ultimately resigned from the vice presidency in 1973, after pleading no contest to tax evasion.

Vice President Al Gore also retained outside counsel in conjunction with an inquiry into his fundraising activities, including several telephone calls he made from his White House office soliciting Democratic campaign contributions. But he never hired a counsel during the investigation and subsequent impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

And Vice President Dick Cheney consulted Terrence O'Donnell, a partner at Williams & Connolly, on several issues during his time in the Bush administration.

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