Meet the lawyer at center of whistleblower case: ‘It is an everyday adventure’

Mark Zaid has landed his most consequential role yet at the center of the political storm over President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Zaid, a prominent Washington attorney who has spent much of his career representing clients in high-profile cases, is part of the legal team representing two whistleblowers at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

“Because this case directly involves the president and is caught up in politics, it is an everyday adventure,” Zaid told The Hill in an interview.

{mosads}“I don’t think I had my tweets on television before this case,” Zaid continued. “They would make the newspaper, but not television.”

Zaid, who runs his own law firm, says he hasn’t been fazed by all of the attention, and that his career — which included representing five of the Benghazi whistleblowers as they testified before Congress — has prepared him for it.

“The key thing is, first, to make sure as a lawyer one never loses sight that it’s the client’s interests that are paramount,” Zaid said.

“That it doesn’t become about you as the lawyer and that also, when it’s a whistleblower complaint, that it doesn’t become about the client,” he continued. “It’s about the allegations.”

Zaid announced he was representing the first whistleblower alongside attorney Andrew Bakaj, who runs his own law firm, on Sept. 20, just as details about Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that touched on former Vice President Joe Biden began to leak out into the press.

By the following week, House Democrats had launched formal impeachment proceedings; the White House had released a reconstructed transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky; and the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump used his position to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election had been made public.

Trump has insisted he did nothing improper on his call with Zelensky, accusing the whistleblower of offering a misleading account of the conversation and dismissing the individual as a “partisan.” The whistleblower’s description of the call, while not a firsthand account, largely lined up with the transcript released by the White House.

Zaid confirmed over the weekend that he and Bakaj are representing a second whistleblower with firsthand knowledge of the events.

Zaid’s involvement in the case has earned him and his law firm partisan attacks from the president’s supporters, which Zaid and his colleagues dismissed as ridiculous, noting his firm has represented conservative clients including the Republican National Committee (RNC) on a case related to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Zaid is a registered independent and says he has no patience for partisan politics.

He isn’t giving money to presidential candidates from either party; his only recorded political donations were to the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee between the years of 2005 and 2014.

Zaid told The Hill that the funds, totaling some $3,600, were successful silent auction biddings that he made as a guest at the committee’s spring ball.

Those familiar with Zaid and his work say he doesn’t carry an air of politics in his professional or personal life.

“I have no idea if he’s a Democrat or a Republican. He just doesn’t talk politics,” said Bob Eatinger, a former CIA deputy general counsel who is friends with Zaid after often debating him when in government. “Anybody who says he’s doing this for political slant is just making it up.”

Steven Cash, a national security lawyer at Day Pitney in Washington, D.C., echoed Eatinger, saying he has “no idea what his politics are, to tell you the truth.”

“Lawyers represent clients. They don’t usually represent causes,” Cash continued. “Mark represents clients, he doesn’t represent causes.”

{mossecondads}Having graduated from Albany Law School of Union University in 1992, Zaid moved to Washington by July 1993 and started representing victims in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, filing the first civil suit against the Libyan government in 1993.

Zaid counts among his accomplishments drafting legislation that enabled U.S. victims to file civil lawsuits against terrorist states, which passed as an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 1996.

Zaid has also worked on a number of prominent Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, including representing Mohamed al Fayed when he sued the CIA in 2000 to obtain files on Britain’s Princess Diana.

The Washington attorney was also part of the legal team that successfully sued to halt the Pentagon’s compulsory anthrax vaccination program in the early 2000s.

When asked what motivates him in his work, Zaid explained that it’s about holding the government accountable, though he was careful to note that he doesn’t consider himself an enemy of the government.

“We’re not ideological. We think our government does a lot of things right. I’m not an enemy of the CIA. I sue it all the time, I criticize it all the time, because it deserves it. But we work closely at times with it because it’s in the best interest,” Zaid said.

When Zaid’s cases have drawn political attention, he says he focused on representing his clients and not getting sucked into the political fray. He noted that, when he was representing clients in the Benghazi congressional investigation, Republicans were friendly to him.

Zaid recalled drinking port with Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), now the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, in his office. The panel, now led by Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), is leading the investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine amid GOP protest.

“Now the roles are sort of reversed,” Zaid observed. “I’m a straight shooter but I don’t get involved with the politics of it.”

He acknowledged that his involvement in the whistleblower case has resulted in unwelcome personal attacks and lamented misleading narratives that have grown out of massive speculation about the details.

Zaid has also been forced to contend with an ever-aggressive news media trying to track the whistleblower story; he rebuked The New York Times for publishing a report about the first whistleblower’s background, calling it dangerous and potentially harmful for his client.

Trump has also said he’s trying to determine the whistleblower’s identity and wants to interview the person.

“I think he is probably more calm than the rest of us in trying to handle the day-to-day of this,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer who works at Zaid’s law firm.

“I think it’s going to be tough because he’s both got to do his best to represent the client and not inadvertently do something that somebody could use to identify” the whistleblower, said Eatinger.

“He’s been very close to the chest on this, which is how I think you have to do a case like this,” he said.

Tags Adam Schiff Devin Nunes Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Impeachment impeachment inquiry Joe Biden Mark Zaid Volodymyr Zelensky

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video