Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Mike Pence lawyers up as Russia scandal reaches new level


Mike Pence’s tenure as vice president has already been unusual, at least compared to his modern predecessors. The Indiana Republican, for example, created his own political action committee, a first for a sitting VP. He’s also headlining his own “cross-country summer campaign tour,” which isn’t usually the sort of thing we see from a vice president six months into his first term.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/15/17, 9:00 PM ET

Pence hires lawyer with relevant experience; Mueller builds team

Rachel Maddow reports on how the new outside lawyer hired by Mike Pence, Richard Cullen, had a role representing clients in both the Watergate and and Iran Contra presidential scandals.
Rachel Maddow reports on how the new outside lawyer hired by Mike Pence, Richard Cullen, had a role representing clients in both the Watergate and and Iran Contra presidential scandals.
And as Rachel noted on last night’s show, the Washington Post reported that Pence has also found it necessary to lawyer up, as the Russia scandal intensifies.

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

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

Cullen will represent Pence’s personal interests and will not be paid with taxpayer funds.

Note that Donald Trump hired his own outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who recently told White House officials that he didn’t see the need for them to find their own attorneys. Evidently, Pence is ignoring that advice.

One of the striking differences between Pence’s outside counsel and Trump’s outside counsel is that the former seems vastly more qualified. The president created a legal team featuring commercial litigators and the head of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s religious right legal group – who collectively have no experience overseeing a defense over these kinds of constitutional questions. The vice president’s new lawyer, on the other hand, worked on George W. Bush’s legal team and played a legal role in the Iran-Contra affair.

One of these things is not like the other.

There’s also the question of why Pence believes it’s necessary to have outside counsel. It may have something to do with the fact that he’s been caught making false statements to the public on multiple occasions, including the vice president recently defending Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey with a specific rationale – which Trump himself discredited soon after.

We also know that Pence’s claims about when he learned of Michael Flynn’s work as a foreign agent clearly aren’t true. The vice president’s claims about Flynn’s communications with Russia were also proven to be false. And, of course, when Pence said no one from Team Trump spoke with Russian officials before Election Day, that wasn’t even close to being true.

But stepping back, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the magnitude of the moment. The president is under a criminal investigation. His political operation is at the center of a federal counter-espionage probe. The vice president has lawyered up. The president’s powerful son-in-law and his finances are drawing close scrutiny. Top administration officials are refusing to answer questions under oath. The Justice Department and two congressional committees are examining the degree to which a foreign adversary attacked an American election and helped elect the Leader of the Free World.

If this doesn’t represent a political crisis, what does?