Whistleblower lawyer acknowledges client had 'contact' with presidential candidates

Mark Zaid and Andrew Bakaj, the attorneys representing the whistleblower at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, acknowledged in a statement on Wednesday that their client “has come into contact with presidential candidates from both parties” — but insisted that the contact involved the politicians’ roles as “elected officials – not as candidates.”

The lawyers’ abrupt disclosure came as The Washington Examiner reported that Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson told lawmakers the whistleblower worked “or had some type of professional relationship” with one of the Democratic presidential candidates, citing three sources familiar with Atkinson’s interview with lawmakers on Friday.

Zaid and Bakaj did not respond to questions from Fox News on Wednesday, even Zaid’s own open animus towards the White House over the past two and a half years called into question the extent of his own bias.

The attorneys did assert in their statement that the whistleblower “has never worked for or advised a political candidate, campaign, or party” — leaving open the possibility that the whistleblower did advise a current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate prior to their run for office.

“The whistleblower is not the story,” the attorneys said. “To date, virtually every substantive allegation has been confirmed by other sources. For that reason the identity of the whistleblower is irrelevant.”

Activists rally for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington last month. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., committed Tuesday to launching a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Activists rally for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington last month. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., committed Tuesday to launching a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

But Republicans have challenged that claim, noting that various statements in the whistleblower claim have seemingly proved inaccurate. For example, the whistleblower complaint stated that President Trump made a “specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike” — a request that does not appear in the declassified transcript of the call released by the Trump administration. Trump mentioned CrowdStrike, but did not demand the server.

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And according to the whistleblower complaint, by mid-May, U.S. diplomat Kurt Volker sought to “contain the damage” from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s outreach to Ukraine. But a July 19 text message conversation from Volker to Giuliani, provided to Fox News, showed that Volker had in fact encouraged Giuliani to reach out to Ukraine — even sending Giuliani a message reading, “Connecting you here with Andrey Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky.”

Additionally, details concerning Zaid’s open political advocacy have surfaced as he represents the anonymous whistleblower publicly.

Even as Zaid described Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., as a “mature professional,” circulated articles and touted the reliability of the largely discredited Steele dossier used by the FBI to surveil a former member of Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly unloaded on the president in no uncertain terms.

“I’m not a Trump fan,” Zaid said on a podcast last year. “I go out of my way on Twitter to say ‘#Resistance.’ It’s not a resistance against the GOP or a Republican — I don’t think [Trump] is a Republican, quite frankly.” (Zaid also boasted that he has sued “every” president since 1993, and pursues “them all,” regardless of party affiliation.)

Also in the podcast, Zaid acknowledged that he had been fishing for plaintiffs to launch a lawsuit concerning the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., alleging unfair competition by the president and his associates.

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“The unfair competition becomes, when Donald Trump became president, he has exploited his use of the presidency, of the Oval Office. … to send business to the hotel. … We identified this as a cause of action, and we were looking for a plaintiff, and we finally found this one restaurant that was willing,” Zaid admitted. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last year.

Zaid also said Trump supporters “out in the heartland” were “so narrow-minded” because they did not understand his concerns were nonpartisan.

And Zaid put out something of an open casting call for whistleblowers on Twitter as Trump took office, writing that CIA employees should “come to” his law firm “to lawfully challenge” the new president.

Zaid also publicly requested celebrities Debra Messing, Nancy Sinatra, Cher and Rob Reiner to promote his whistleblower law firm.

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“@cher please check out our new whistleblower page,” Zaid wrote in one tweet, which garnered no response from the famed singer.

In February, Zaid escalated his pitch to Reiner, asserting that “we have a chance to depose” Trump in court.

At one point last year, Zaid even pitched his services to Michael Avenatti, after the now-embattled attorney mentioned that he was “now representing whistleblowers within ICE.”

Additionally, Zaid openly encouraged individuals to apply to the CIA so that they could become his clients when they discovered “waste, fraud, abuse or unlawful conduct.”

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Fox News has learned that Whistleblower Aid, the nonprofit that established a GoFundMe that has raised more than $200,000 for the whistleblower’s legal team, is also known as Values United. Tax documents filed by Valued United show that the organization paid West End Strategy Group $258,085 for advertising and consulting services.

Zaid serves as a founding legal partner at Whistleblower Aid, in addition to his duties at his whistleblower law firm.

West End Strategy founder Matt Dorf says on that group’s website that he “influences progressive politics, skillfully shifting the conversation to achieve the goals of West End Strategy clients.”

Earlier Wednesday, Trump pressed for the whistleblower to be “exposed and questioned” after new reports surfaced suggesting the person has ties to a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

“The Whistleblower’s facts have been so incorrect about my ‘no pressure’ conversation with the Ukrainian President, and now the conflict of interest and involvement with a Democrat Candidate, that he or she should be exposed and questioned properly,” Trump tweeted.

“This is no Whistleblower….The Whistleblower’s lawyer is a big Democrat. The Whistleblower has ties to one of my DEMOCRAT OPPONENTS. Why does the [Intelligence Community Inspector General] allow this scam to continue?”

On Friday sources told Fox News that Atkinson revealed the whistleblower volunteered that he or she was a registered Democrat and had a prior working relationship with a prominent Democratic politician.

Zaid has confirmed this past week that there is a second whistleblower who has come forward and has already spoken to the inspector general.

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The whistleblower, whose identity remains secret, originally alerted the inspector general to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump sought investigations into possible Ukraine actions in the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden’s conduct in relation to his own family’s ties in the country. Fox News first reported that the whistleblower, after learning of the call, wrote a dramatic personal memo saying a White House official characterized the call as “crazy,” “frightening,” and “completely lacking in substance related to national security.”

The whistleblower complaint touched off a controversy that led to the White House releasing an account of the call, while Democrats immediately launched an impeachment inquiry. On Wednesday, Trump called the whistleblower’s claims “a very big Lie,” and pointed to statements made by Zelensky that he felt no pressure.

“No Pressure at all said Ukraine! Very congenial, a perfect call. The Whistleblower and others spoke BEFORE seeing the Transcript,” he tweeted. “Now they must apologize to me and stop this ridiculous impeachment!”

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.