Ukraine whistleblower’s lawyers work for group that offers to pay officials who leak against Trump – Washington Examiner
The anonymous U.S. intelligence official accusing President Trump of improperly pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is represented by two lawyers who run a group that offers financial help to fired whistleblowers.
Whistleblower Aid was launched in September 2017 — eight months after Trump’s inauguration — with an advertising blitz that involved mobile billboards being driven close to the White House, Congress, outside the Pentagon, and around the headquarters of the CIA and National Security Agency.
The group’s pledge of support, in addition to free legal representation including rent and mortgage assistance, media coaching, and doctor’s bills and counseling, is controversial among lawyers. Critics say it violates attorney ethics.
Whistleblower Aid was founded by veteran national security defense attorney Mark Zaid and John Tye, a whistleblower who worked to promote internet freedom at the State Department before warning of mass surveillance during the Obama administration. Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA officer who is associated with Zaid’s firm, is also a lawyer for Whistleblower Aid.
Zaid and Bakaj represent the official who claimed whistleblower status in raising the case of the Ukraine call.
The official works at one of the 17 separate U.S. government intelligence agencies that are collectively referred to as “the intelligence community.” Democrats say the official’s revelations could justify impeachment if Trump requested that his potential 2020 Democratic challenger be investigated in return for withholding foreign aid.
It is unclear whether the nonprofit organization has provided assistance to the official or what financial arrangement there is between the official and attorneys Zaid and Bakaj. Whistleblower Aid launched with a $1.5 million donation from Tye.
Whistleblower Aid describes itself as “a pioneering, non-profit law firm that helps patriotic government employees and brave, private-sector workers report and publicize their concerns” with legal advice that “is confidential, but never ideological or partisan.” Asked in 2017 about the timing of the group’s launch, Tye said, “We want to advise people what to do, whether it’s going to Congress, or an inspector general or Robert Mueller,” referring to the special counsel handling the Russia investigation.
He added, “This is not a partisan effort. At the same time, yes, the rule of law starts with the office of the president. Like many other people, we are definitely concerned about things that are happening in the administration. The decision to fire [FBI Director] James Comey. The lack of transparency. A lot of people have questions about whether this administration respects the rule of law.”
Tye told the Washington Examiner that the official who exposed the content of the Ukrainian call to the intelligence community’s inspector general did not connect with their attorneys through Whistleblower Aid’s encrypted communications platform. Asked whether the organization was “providing or standing ready to provide assistance” to the official, he replied, ‘Yes, absolutely.” He did not respond to additional requests for information.
He founded the group with Zaid after racking up $13,000 In legal bills when he hired Zaid to represent him. An article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported a recent uptick in informants for the group, which represented Simon Edelman, an Energy Department whistleblower who says he was fired after leaking to the press.
Zaid has long encouraged disclosures through official channels, scoffing at attorneys he says seek to make martyrs out of their clients.
Bakaj, the official’s lead attorney, is a himself a former intelligence community whistleblower. While working as an attorney at the CIA inspector general’s office in 2014, Bakaj reported an apparent cover-up to the intelligence community’s inspector general and then faced retaliation and an administrative suspension. He and Zaid are listed as being “of counsel” at each others’ law firms. Bakaj also leads Compass Rose Legal Group, which employs Chuck McCullough, a former intelligence community inspector general.
“Bakaj is a respected attorney who left the CIA in 2014 after facing professional retaliation for trying to work with intelligence community whistleblowers,” said Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who has represented whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and John Kiriakou. She also represents Daniel Hale, the most recent person charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing information to journalists.
Radack works at ExposeFacts, a different group that supports whistleblowers but does not pay the rent or mortgages of clients because of potential ethical issues.
The American Bar Association’s rules for avoiding conflicts of interest say that lawyers “may not subsidize lawsuits or administrative proceedings brought on behalf of their clients, including making or guaranteeing loans to their clients for living expenses, because to do so would encourage clients to pursue lawsuits that might not otherwise be brought and because such assistance gives lawyers too great a financial stake in the litigation.”
Whistleblower Aid says on its website that it’s able to offer “temporary rent or mortgage support” to fired employees, as well as “psycho-social counseling and treatment,” in addition to services such as public relations coaching. Tye said he believed this was “100% compliant with applicable ethics rules,” and points to the DC Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which allow “financial assistance which is reasonably necessary to permit the client to institute or maintain the litigation or administrative proceedings.”
Zaid and Bakaj did not respond to requests for comment.
The official alleges Trump made a “promise” during a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump acknowledged discussing Biden on the call but denies misconduct, countercharging that Biden corruptly forced the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating a company that hired Biden’s son Hunter.