As a friend of the late Post publisher Philip L. Graham, Cutler was chosen to be Graham's counsel when the news executive was appointed in the early 1960s to help incorporate the new Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat), the federally created provider of satellite telecommunications.
In 1979, Cutler was brought into the Carter White House as counsel to the president. In an administration that prided itself on keeping clear of the Washington establishment, he was the ultimate insider.
Problems on which he worked included the effort to persuade the Senate to ratify the SALT II arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union. The ratification was doomed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Cutler also advised Carter on how to handle media and congressional interest in his younger brother, Billy, whose business dealings with the Kadafi government in Libya were fast becoming a political liability.
To help end the seizure of 52 American hostages by Islamic radicals in Iran, the president successfully dispatched Cutler to persuade the deposed shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to leave American soil for Panama. The hostages were not released until the moment on Jan. 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter as president.
Cutler was called back to the White House in 1994 to help Clinton during the imbroglio surrounding the Whitewater real estate fiasco.
During his 130-day assignment, he tried to get the White House off the defensive. He encouraged then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to hold a news conference and talk about her family's finances -- a media gambit many considered successful.
By his demeanor and experience, Cutler lent gravity to a White House seen by its critics as amateurish in handling crises.
"I am not here as a special pleader for the president of the United States," he told the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee in July 1994. "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."
Replied committee member Rep. Toby Roth (R-Wis.): "You're one of the smoothest operators in Washington. Mr. Cutler, you're much too smooth."
The tone was hardly one of animosity, and Cutler had a skillful way of attracting admirers across the aisle. Long a believer that politicians should not insert their ideological biases when making appointments to the bench, he surprised many Democrats in 1987 by backing the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork, the conservative legal scholar and federal appeals court judge.
At the time, he warned Democrats that should they win back the White House, Republicans would relish payback for stalling nominations on ideological grounds. Bork's failure to gain confirmation from a Democratic-controlled Senate rankled Republicans for years.
Outside of his practice, Cutler was devoted to Yale and helped raise $374 million for the school.
In recent years, he served on special panels looking into the continuity of government during a terrorist attack and a salmon treaty revision, among others. He was a member of the commission headed by Charles S. Robb, the former Virginia governor and senator, and Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal judge, that reviewed the quality of U.S. intelligence-gathering leading to the war in Iraq.
Cutler's first wife, Louise Howe, whom he married in 1941, died in 1988. He then married the artist Rhoda Winton "Polly" Kraft, the widow of columnist Joseph Kraft.
Survivors include his second wife, of Washington; four children from the first marriage; two stepsons; a sister; and eight grandchildren.