WASHINGTON - Vice President Pence has hired a private lawyer to help him respond to questions raised by the special counsel investigating interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Pence communications director Jarrod Agen confirmed Thursday that Pence hired Richard Cullen, former U.S. attorney who is chairman of McGuire Woods, a Washington-based law firm. "The vice president is focused entirely on his duties and promoting the president agenda and looks forward to a swift conclusion of this matter," Agen said in a statement.
The news was first reported by The Washington Post. Pence is scheduled to be in Indianapolis Friday to raise money for his political action committee.
Although Pence has not been at the center of the questions raised about Trump campaign officials, he hasn’t escaped unscathed.
The New York Times reported last month that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the Trump transition team — headed by Pence — that he was under FBI investigation for secretly lobbying for Turkey during the campaign. After that report, Pence reiterated a previous statement that he first learned of Flynn's lobbying in March. Flynn was fired after he lied to Pence and others about not having spoken during the transition with the Russian ambassador about the sanctions imposed on the country by the Obama administration.
After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Pence repeated the initial White House explanation that Comey was dismissed based on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But Trump later said he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation. He also reportedly told a group of Russian officials that the Comey dismissal would help get the Russia probe behind him.
Comey testified before Congress last week that he leaked parts of the notes he took on conversations he had with Trump in hope the news would prompt appointment of a special counsel.The Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the Russia probe just one day after the existence of the memos was disclosed.
Trump recently hired Wall Street lawyer Marc Kasowitz to represent him in the investigation.
That hasn’t stopped Trump from complaining publicly about the probe. In a day-long tweet storm Thursday, Trump criticized reports that he is now under investigation for obstruction of justice in connection with the firing of Comey.
Cullen’s high-profile clients have included former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay and the former wife of golfer Tiger Woods. He was on President George W. Bush’s legal team for the 2000 election recount in Florida. Cullen specials in criminal representation and has worked in situations similar to what’s happening in Washington now, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Cullen’s official biography touts his “extensive experience” defending large multi-nation corporations in investigations and says his counsel to corporate executives and others has involved “matters of the utmost sensitivity, often involving issues of national security.”
Cullen's fees will not be paid for with taxpayer dollars, according to Agen.
Legal experts say Pence could tap money raised from his new leadership PAC to help pay legal expenses. There are few restrictions on how politicians can use funds in leadership PACs.
In addition, Trump and Pence might be able to tap another source of money — donations to their White House campaign account — to help with the legal bills associated with the probe, said Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission official who oversees the political law practice at Skadden Arps in Washington. “I think the allegations are sufficiently tied to campaign-related matters that campaign funds would be appropriate,” he said.
USA TODAY reporters Fredreka Schouten and David Jackson contributed to this report.
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