WASHINGTON — Growing up in Jericho, Mark Zaid always displayed an eagerness to take on new challenges.
He spent summers rushing out the door to respond to emergency calls as a Jericho volunteer firefighter. His hand was usually the first to shoot up when his health teacher opened the floor for questions, and he was known for his competitive streak as a varsity athlete on several Jericho High School teams.
Zaid, 52, a prominent national security lawyer, is now tapping into the same speed and energy that defined his upbringing on Long Island, as he takes on one of the most consequential cases of his career — representing the U.S. intelligence whistleblower who triggered an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
His days lately are spent firing off a rapid succession of tweets in defense of his client as Trump and his GOP allies ramp up their calls for the whistleblower’s name to be formally revealed.
Trump also has taken direct aim at Zaid, most recently at a Lousiana campaign rally, where he read aloud a series of 2017 tweets the attorney wrote days after Trump took office that said "impeachment will follow ultimately," after Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama-era holdover.
Trump said the tweets were evidence the impeachment claims against him were part of a "scam," but Zaid has defended the tweets, telling Fox News: "I was referring to a completely lawful process of what President Trump would likely face as a result of stepping over the line, and that particularly whatever would happen would come about as a result of lawyers."
Zaid, a registered independent, has spent the bulk of his 27-year career representing federal whistleblowers. He argues that such individuals are needed to come forward with their accounts of misdeeds and mismanagement to hold “the government accountable regardless of political party.”
“There are members of Congress, on the Republican side, who are trying to out the individual. That is reckless, irresponsible, and contrary to their responsibilities as a member of Congress,” Zaid said in an interview days before Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) took the stage at a Trump campaign rally to call for the publication of the whistleblower’s name.
Conservative media outlets have sought to brand Zaid as a left-wing lawyer, but he said he has worked throughout his career to remain non-partisan, noting that he has represented clients of all political stripes.
He represented the Republican National Committee in 2015 as it sued for the release of Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mails, and served as the attorney for five CIA whistleblowers who were at the center of the House GOP’s investigation into the 2012 fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Most recently, Zaid, and his co-counsel Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA analyst, offered House Republicans the opportunity to question the whistleblower directly via written questions. The offer came as Republicans continued to assert that they have been treated unfairly during the House Democrat-led inquiry.
“Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective,” Zaid wrote on Twitter. “That is not our role … We stand ready to cooperate and ensure facts — rather than partisanship — dictates any process involving the [whistleblower.]”
House GOP leaders have so far rejected the offer arguing that the whistleblower should appear before the panel in person.
"The opportunity to ask questions directly and dig deeper is invaluable especially when the stakes couldn’t be higher, which is why the whistleblower should be on the GOP subpoena list," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)
Zaid argues it’s not necessary for his client to address lawmakers, because the allegations outlined in the individual’s Aug. 12 whistleblower complaint have since been corroborated by State Department and White House officials who have testified before lawmakers about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Zaid and Bakaj also represent a second whistleblower who claims to have information that backs up the original whistleblower’s nine-page complaint.
The complaint filed with the Inspector General for the Intelligence Communities described Trump’s push to have Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky open an investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as Trump ordered the temporary suspension of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
The president has said the call was “perfect” and there was nothing improper about his request, but several career government officials have since testified under oath before House lawmakers that there was a quid pro quo tying the military aid and a prospective visit by Zelensky to the White House to the launching of an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We've already had numerous first-hand witnesses come forward,” Zaid said. “Their knowledge completely supersedes what the whistleblower knew. Those were the people who, as a general matter, were basically where the whistleblower was learning information from. The whistleblower won't add anything to the equation. All that that their identity means is a distraction for partisan vindictiveness quite frankly, at this stage.”
A 1992 graduate of Albany Law School, Zaid started his career with a headline-grabbing case — representing the families of victims of Pan Am flight 103 that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Zaid successfully sued the Libiyan government, which was found to be tied to the 1988 plane bombing. The transnational lawsuit required congressional action to proceed, which Zaid fought for, ultimately leading to a $2.7 billion settlement with Libya.
Zaid has since represented the father of Dodi Al Fayed, the late partner of former Princess Diana, as he sought records from the U.S. intelligence agencies about the fatal car collision that killed the famous couple in Paris. He also represented George W. Hickey, a former Secret Service agent for President John F. Kennedy, in a libel suit against the publisher of a book that alleged Hickey was at fault for JFK’s death. The publisher later settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
Zaid said he often gets asked why he got into law, but he can’t specify the exact reason.
Those who know him from Long Island say the career seems like a natural fit.
Richard Drab, Zaid’s former health teacher at Jericho High, recalls a student who was always eager to ask questions, and had a deep sense of public service.
“Mark was, let’s use the word, vociferous,” Drab said in an interview. “Mark let you know that he was there. He wanted to know how things tick, how they functioned. He wanted to be a part of whatever was taking place.”
Drab, who also served as a Jericho volunteer firefighter, recalled an eager recruit in Zaid, who was often the first to respond to emergency calls when he volunteered for the department during his college summer breaks.
“When the bell went off, Mark was always there rushing to the scene,” Drab said.
Zaid was born in Manhasset, the son of a car dealer and homemaker, but called Jericho home until he left for college at the University of Rochester, where he majored in history and political science. As a toddler he and his family lived briefly in Flushing, Queens, near the old Shea Stadium, sparking an early allegiance to the New York Mets that has not faded. He often wears Mets gear under his Washington Nationals jersey when attending baseball games in D.C.
At Jericho High, Zaid played for the school’s soccer, fencing, football, and track-and-field teams.
In 2010, Zaid was inducted into Jericho High School’s Hall of Fame as one of its youngest inductees. Occasionally on trips back to Long Island, he said he’ll pass by the school to see how it has changed since his last visit.
Despite living in the D.C. area since the early 1990s, Zaid said he still considers Long Island home.
“For the most part, I have lost my Long Island accent even though there are people who are not from Long Island who will tell me that they can still hear it in some words,” Zaid said. “I always tell everyone … I will always be a New Yorker.”