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Vice-President Pence hires own lawyer for Russia probes

World

US Vice-President Mike Pence has hired a lawyer known for defending government officials in high-profile investigations to help him with probes into whether there were ties between the election campaign of President Donald Trump and Russia.

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US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump’s favour.

Pence hired Richard Cullen, chairman of law firm McGuireWoods, to help him respond to inquiries from special counsel Robert Mueller, a spokesman said.

Cullen is a former federal prosecutor who has long ties to former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump fired on May 9.

“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,” a Pence spokesman said.

Pence has seldom addressed the Russia issue, which has overshadowed Trump’s White House agenda.

Trump, who has hired his own lawyer for probes by a special counsel and congressional committees, lashed out on Thursday after a report he was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.

He dismissed as phoney the idea his campaign colluded with any Russian effort to sway the 2016 election.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump tweeted, later repeating his accusation that the probe is a “witch hunt”.

The Washington Post, citing unidentified officials, reported on Wednesday that Mueller was investigating the Republican president for possible obstruction of justice.

A source familiar with the Mueller investigation confirmed the report, saying an examination of possible obstruction of justice charges was “unavoidable” given testimony by Comey, although the issue may not become the main focus of the probe.

Comey told a Senate panel last week he believed Trump dismissed him to undermine the FBI’s Russia probe. He said he believed Trump had directed him to drop a related agency investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The obstruction of justice investigation into Trump began days after Comey was fired, according to people familiar with the matter, the Washington Post said.

Trump was strongly critical of some of Comey’s testimony but said Comey had vindicated him by saying while he was at the agency, Trump was not the subject of the FBI’s Russia probe.

The special counsel is following two major lines of investigation, said one source.

The first is into whether anyone on Trump’s campaign or associated with it, with him or with any of his businesses, may have had any illegal dealings with Russian officials or others with ties to the Kremlin.

The second, the source continued, is whether if any potential offences were committed, Trump or others attempted to cover them up or obstruct the investigation into them.

Examining such possible charges will allow investigators to interview key administration figures including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and possibly Trump himself, said the source familiar with the Mueller investigation.

While a sitting president is unlikely to face criminal prosecution, obstruction of justice could form the basis for impeachment.

The White House has denied any collusion, and Trump has repeatedly complained about the probe, saying Democrats cannot accept his election win.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Comey had presented no evidence to prove that Moscow meddled in the US election, adding that Washington had tried to influence Russian elections “year after year”.

Putin echoed Trump’s criticism of Comey, saying it was “very strange” a former FBI chief leaked details of his conversations with the US president to the media through a friend.

-Reuters

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