WASHINGTON -- Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton, died yesterday at his home in Washington. He was 87 and had been ill with complications from a broken hip, said Anne Jordan, a family friend.
In a statement, President Bush said: ''Laura and I are saddened by the passing of Lloyd Cutler. Lloyd Cutler served our nation with dedication and distinction throughout his extraordinary career. . . . He was a devoted public servant who had a profound influence on the legal profession."
In 1962 Mr. Cutler cofounded Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, one of Washington's leading law firms. The firm merged with Boston's Hale and Dorr last year to become Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr.
He joined the Carter White House in 1979 and advised the president on the Iran hostage crisis and the SALT II arms treaty with the Soviet Union.
In 1994, Clinton asked Mr. Cutler to help salvage the White House's credibility amid allegations that the staff meddled in the Whitewater inquiry. Mr. Cutler, who agreed to serve for just 130 working days, the limit for a special government employee, was praised for his defense of Clinton and his aides during the Whitewater hearings before Congress.
''He's been solid, wise, with excellent legal judgment and political judgment and strong communications skills," George Stephanopoulos, who was Clinton's senior White House adviser, said at the time. ''He really put a solid center in the counsel's office."
When Mr. Cutler was recruited, he declared, ''In government, as in other aspects of life, trust is the coin of the realm, and I pledge myself to do what I can to assure that trust is maintained."
He told the House Banking Committee investigating the Whitewater charges: ''I am not here as a special pleader for the president of the United States. I am here to report to you about a factual investigation that I conducted. I didn't ask for this job. I came in and I took it and I reported, frankly, to the best of my ability as a lawyer and a person of integrity."
John Podesta, White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, said yesterday: ''Lloyd was just a giant in the legal community. In a town split by partisanship, he had enormous credibility and respect on both sides of the aisle. We'll miss him; he was a good guy."
Mike McCurry, a White House spokesman during the Clinton administration, said: ''He was a great counsel, a great political figure. He tied together different generations of Democrats."
But Mr. Cutler also served on commissions for Republican presidents, most recently President Bush's commission investigating flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Cutler stepped down from the commission in July, citing personal reasons.
Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, put him on commissions studying government ethics and pay. Presidents Johnson and Reagan also gave him assignments.
One of Mr. Cutler's most vocal critics was consumer advocate Ralph Nader. In the 1960s, Mr. Cutler represented the Automobile Manufacturers of America while Nader was lobbying for stricter auto safety laws. Nader later criticized Carter and Clinton for appointing a corporate lawyer to such an influential White House position.
In the 1996 book ''No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America," Nader and co-author Wesley J. Smith called Mr. Cutler ''the consummate power lawyer, a man so systematically dedicated to expanding his influence that he could have come straight out of central casting."
Mr. Cutler was born in New York City in 1917. He graduated from Yale University in 1936, then from Yale Law School in 1939. During World War II, he moved to Washington, where he worked in the Lend-Lease Administration and later at the Justice Department.
His work at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering included cases involving bankruptcy law, administrative law, securities law, auto safety, and drug safety. He was also concerned with civil rights, founding and acting as cochairman of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and founding the Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project.
He leaves his wife, Polly Kraft, three daughters, and a son.