At 6:37 a.m. on Oct. 6, as he wrapped up his Meliora Weekend festivities, Mark Zaid tweeted out breaking news.
NEWS UPDATE: I can confirm this report of a second #whistleblower being represented by our legal team. They also made a protected disclosure under the law and cannot be retaliated against. This WBer has first hand knowledge. https://t.co/zYkUYgJ0mE
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) October 6, 2019
Zaid is a 1989 UR grad who works as a national security attorney, and he may have just signed onto one of the biggest cases in his career.
He, along with Andrew Bakaj, represents the two whistleblowers at the center of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump.
That didn’t stop Zaid from attending Mel Weekend, which included his class’ 30th reunion.
“It wasn’t overwhelming, I was able to absolutely enjoy Mel Weekend,” Zaid said. “But throughout the day, and especially whenever I had a break, I was on my phone and emailing, messaging, [and] telephoning with co-counsel, clients, and the media about the case.”
Zaid went to events including the inauguration of UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf and a meeting of the Library National Council, which he sits on. The Library National Council advises Dean of Libraries Mary Ann Mavrinac and discusses issues including library policy, development, and fundraising.
Zaid recalled the surprise of other members upon seeing him at the Council’s meeting, where he got comments like “Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere? I’m reading about you in the news right now.”
While this whistleblower case is relatively new for Zaid — he only joined Bakaj on it about a month ago — its high-profile nature has kept him busy.
“It’s like an adventure every day,” Zaid said. “I’m very much used to this type of case, […] but clearly the significant substantive impact of this case is far greater than pretty much most any other case. We’re dealing with direct accusations against a sitting president, and the media attention is non-stop every day.”
Zaid continued, “There’s a level of excitement and interest in being part of something that is so important, whatever that outcome might be.”
As a D.C. lawyer, Zaid has to navigate everything from public relations to politics.
“I don’t like politics, actually,” Zaid said. “I learned that early on. I try to stay out of it. Obviously we have to understand it, and we have to play the game and understand the game, but we don’t like the game.”
Zaid’s connection to UR runs deep. A history and political science major, he studied abroad in London in the spring of 1988, an experience which included an externship with the Conservative Party there. Extracurricularly, he was a Campus Times Photo Editor, a member of MERT, and a founding member of UR’s Sig Ep fraternity.
But one of the most significant events in Zaid’s time at UR came during his last winter break, when PanAm Flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland. Two UR students were killed in the bombing and are remembered on a plaque outside Morey.
“That really really impacted me,” said Zaid. “When I went to law school, just 7 months later, I immediately started to work on modifying the law so that terrorist countries and terrorists could be sued by victims of terrorism.”
In 1993, Zaid joined another lawyer in filing the first civil lawsuits relating to PanAm Flight 103 — in Scotland in October and in Washington, D.C. in December. Nearly a decade later, in 2002, Libya offered a $2.7 billion settlement to victims of the bombing.
PanAm was Zaid’s first high-profile case. Since then, Zaid has represented government officials, diplomats, and members of the military and intelligence communities, primarily on issues pertaining to national security. Zaid has also done work for a range of media outlets, from the Daily Caller to the Wall Street Journal to Politico. While his most visible case is representing the whistleblowers, Zaid is also currently representing a dozen diplomats who were injured in Cuba and China by what some believe to be a weapon.
“If I had to define my law practice, it’s very much about accountability,” he said. “Whoever is in power, I will be pursuing. Democrats, Republicans, socialists, communists, independents, progressives. Whoever they might be. It really doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or Congress, we will be holding them responsible to their obligations to the American people. Or to the world.”
While his career can get intense at times, Zaid stays heavily involved with UR. In addition to his Library National Council position, Zaid also serves on the History Alumni Council. He donated his UR postcard collection and is one of the writers of the book “Wish You Were Here: A Century of Postcards of the University of Rochester.” He is currently in the process of donating his collection of historic memorabilia to UR.
On the night he was interviewed by the Campus Times, Zaid was at a dinner for history majors to meet former UR history department chair Ted Brown.
“The U of R is a significant part of my life,” Zaid said. “I had my alumni jacket on this evening. I wear my U of R ties when I go on the news. And it is a school that I love.”
Correction (5/18/20): A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the University President. Her name is Sarah Mangelsdorf, not Manglesdorf.