WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has hired a personal criminal defense lawyer to guide him through the various investigations encircling the White House, an aide said on Thursday.
Mr. Pence has retained Richard Cullen, a former United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, becoming one of the most prominent figures in the Trump administration to have taken on personal white-collar criminal defense counsel.
Mr. Pence, who had little relationship with the president before joining the campaign ticket just before last July’s Republican convention, is most likely a peripheral figure in the government’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the election and potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort — Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman who has been scrutinized for financial ties to a pro-Russian political party — was instrumental in recruiting Mr. Pence.
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But as the special counsel investigation progresses — focusing increasingly on the president himself and his actions in office — the vice president’s account as a possible witness may become more relevant.
“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,” Jarrod Agen, Mr. Pence’s communications director, said in confirming the hiring, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
Major Washington investigations, whether the inquiry into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater real estate holdings or the inquiry into the leak of a covert C.I.A. agent’s identity during the administration of George W. Bush, have been boons for the practice of white-collar law, which blossomed during the Watergate scandal and transformed boutique practices into major business for global firms.
The list of potential witnesses in such politically perilous investigations can be long, and even witnesses with little direct involvement are likely to need lawyers to shepherd them through interactions with the authorities.
“Whenever a Washington scandal breaks that comes close to the White House, you have people at all levels scrambling for a good white-collar lawyer,” said Julie O’Sullivan, a professor of criminal law at Georgetown University who worked on the Whitewater case.
Ms. O’Sullivan said that anyone subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury should consider invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which she called a “white-collar rule of thumb.”
“In Washington, people often don’t follow that,” Ms. O’Sullivan said, adding that many politicians wrongly equated exercising that right with telegraphing guilt. “Experience is everything,” she said.
Mr. Cullen, a partner at the Richmond, Va., firm McGuireWoods, has played a part in major Washington investigations.
During Watergate, he worked as a staff member in the office of Representative M. Caldwell Butler, a Republican from Virginia who cast a key vote on the House Judiciary Committee to impeach President Richard M. Nixon weeks before he resigned.
During the Iran-contra scandal, he was special counsel to Senator Paul S. Trible Jr., a Virginia Republican who served on the Senate select committee investigating the affair.
Mr. Cullen was later appointed United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia by President George Bush in 1991, after which he served as Virginia’s attorney general in the late 1990s.
In his recent years at McGuireWoods — where James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director Mr. Trump fired last month, worked in the 1990s — Mr. Cullen has represented a range of clients.
Mr. Cullen has also represented Sepp Blatter, a Swiss national and the longtime president of international soccer’s governing body, who was ousted after the United States announced a sweeping global corruption case in 2015 and criminally charged dozens of soccer officials but not, to date, Mr. Blatter.
This year, Mr. Cullen announced that another client, Jeffrey M. Lacker, who abruptly resigned as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, would not be prosecuted by the Justice Department for having broken Fed rules by discussing confidential information with a financial analyst.
Mr. Pence’s choice to hire a private lawyer follows similar ones by other figures in the Trump administration.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is represented by Jamie Gorelick of WilmerHale, and Mr. Trump has called on his longtime personal lawyer — Marc E. Kasowitz, a civil litigator from New York — to represent him as the Russia inquiry moves forward.
Mr. Kasowitz is not, however, a white-collar criminal defense specialist, nor is he a Washington insider.
In recent weeks, he has taken the unusual step of providing legal advice about the Russia inquiry to White House staff members who are not his clients, prompting the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit government watchdog organization, to file complaints on Thursday with the District of Columbia and New York Bar Associations, requesting investigations into whether Mr. Kasowitz violated rules of professional conduct.