'Nonpartisan' Group Offering Help to D.C. Whistleblowers Connected to Progressives

Cofounder says they are a nonpartisan, apolitical group

Attorney Mark Zaid / Getty Images
September 21, 2017

A newly formed "nonpartisan" legal nonprofit that "arose out of concern emanating from the Trump administration" with numerous connections to liberal outfits and public figures has launched a full-scale public relations effort in Washington, D.C., promoting its services of offering help to whistleblowers who come forward with information on government wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Aid, the legal nonprofit, seeks to help potential whistleblowers navigate legal avenues if they were to come forward.

"Today our Republic is under threat. Whistleblower Aid is committed to protecting the rule of law in the United States and around the world," the website states.

John Tye, a former government whistleblower at the U.S. Department of State, is a cofounder of Whistleblower Aid. Tye previously worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based liberal nonprofit that is now perhaps best known for its "hate map," which has come under fire for listing mainstream conservative groups alongside racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Tye also worked at Avaaz, a liberal organization that pushes global activism on issues such as climate change.

Mark Zaid, a Maryland-based attorney who represented Tye and other whistleblowers and who is the nonprofit's other cofounder, is the executive director of another group called the James Madison Project, the website of which lists John Podesta as being on its board of advisers. Zaid also made donations in the past to his local Democratic Party in Maryland.

Zaid spoke to the Washington Free Beacon on his group's efforts and their liberal connections, which have yet to be discussed in depth in news stories about the group.

"What prompted the organization to be founded is John Tye's experiences as being a whistleblower himself in 2014 when I represented him," said Zaid. "A more, let's say intense community now since Donald Trump was elected president. It's completely a nonpartisan, apolitical organization. It really doesn't make a difference if it exposed Democrat or Republican wrongdoing or misconduct, but I think it is fair to say that it arose out of concerns emanating from the Trump administration."

When asked why the group was not founded prior to the Trump Administration—given President Obama's use of the Espionage Act to crack down on whistleblowers more than any previous administration—Zaid said that he doesn't believe that's what Obama was doing.

"I'm on record giving many speeches that I don't think that's at all what Obama was doing. I don't think that there was a war against whistleblowers, I don't think he abused the Espionage Act. I don't think all the people he prosecuted were whistleblowers," said Zaid. "I've represented a number of people who were prosecuted under the Espionage Act and what the Obama administration did was just what any prior administration would have loved to have done and that was to go after leakers."

The Obama administration was widely considered among the most secretive and least transparent presidencies in recent American history by members of the media.

The group does not list any supporters or funders on its website. Zaid said that he does not know who is funding the group when asked how they are raising money. Tye is in charge of its financial side, he said.

When the Free Beacon asked for comment on his relationship with John Podesta—given Podesta is listed on his other group's website as an adviser—Zaid said he has not talked to Podesta in nearly two decades.

"I thought I took it off the website. So when I founded it in 1998, I asked him to join the board of advisers. I think he came on around '99 or 2000 and I literally haven't spoken to him since," he said. "So the board of advisers was always meant to have some big names and people that would have some prestige, associated people that were in the community and Podesta was—and still is I think—a very big advocate for transparency. But he hasn't had any communications with us in literally almost two decades."

Zaid has made more than $3,400 in contributions to his local Democratic Party in Maryland, with the most recent in 2014. Zaid said that they were not outright "donations", but money he paid into silent auctions at annual spring balls for the Democratic Party that he attended as a guest.

The money was for items such as alcohol and trips, he said. Zaid added that he previously represented right-leaning organizations and advised Republican committees.

"All of those donations were my winnings in the silent auction, which were usually alcohol and Disney trips," he said. He added politicians would auction off lunches and that he won a lunch with then representative Democrat Chris Van Hollen (Md.). His law firm covered the costs for the Van Hollen lunch, he said, because it was for work-related purposes. Zaid said he testified in front of Van Hollen and that he supported whistleblowers and classification reform.

"They're listed as donations, but they're not what I would consider donations to the Democratic Party to help them," he said.

Whistleblower Aid is currently promoting their legal group all around the Washington, D.C., area, including on the metro and outside of the White House.

"For a month, there are ads in the D.C. metro and half the railcars. For this week, there are individuals walking around the White House general region with cards and whistles, as well as, I believe, two trucks that have billboards on them that are driving around the White House, Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA," he said. "And as well there was an—a full-page, back page ad—in the Express, which is the Washington Post's free newspaper publication that they hand out at the metros."