The lawyer representing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whistleblower Brian Murphy is accusing DHS of engaging in a campaign to “publicly smear” his name in an attempt to keep him off the case and silence his client. In a statement issued Monday, national security attorney Mark Zaid said DHS was using misleading and “antiquated” information to prevent him from getting the security clearance necessary to represent his client.
Earlier this month, Murphy came forward with allegations that senior officials in the department suppressed evidence of Russian election interference and far-right violence.
“Rather than timely process my clearance, DHS has now embarked upon an effort to publicly smear my good name with antiquated information,” said Zaid, who also said he has been receiving authorized access to classified information since the mid-1990s and held a U.S. government security clearance since 2002. “I have had authorized access to TS/SCI [Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information] on numerous occasions in the last twenty years, during both Democrat and Republican Administrations, and had no difficulties being granted access. It is sad to see that DHS believes the way to silence a lawfully protected DHS whistleblower is to smear his legal counsel.”
Zaid’s comments were prompted by a statement from DHS claiming that the delay in his security clearance was due him being “sharply rebuked” by a federal judge in 1999 for allegedly “violating a CIA confidentiality agreement by wrongfully disclosing confidential government information.”
The controversy stemmed from Ronald Reagan-appointed Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth accusing Zaid of divulging information from a confidential settlement agreement when he filed a FOIA lawsuit relating to the CIA’s unlawful destruction of a manuscript and recommending he be investigated by the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel. Citing the “expansive scope” of the clearance request and the aforementioned “troubling information,” DHS said it was obligated to “conduct a full investigation” into Zaid and his colleagues.
You may also remember Zaid as an attorney for the Ukraine whistleblower, whose complaint led to President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
But as Zaid pointed out in his statement, the D.C. Bar Counsel investigated the conduct at the heart of his “rebuke” and found that Lamberth’s assessment was far from conclusive.
The Office of Bar Counsel concluded that in filing the FOIA lawsuit Zaid “arguably contravened the confidentiality agreement,” but couldn’t say he acted “in a dishonest, underhanded or deceitful manner.”
“Your filing of the FOIA request before the CIA put the agency on notice that you disagreed concerning the scope and significance of the agreement. Accordingly, we cannot find a violation of the Rule on that score,” Bar Counsel Leonard H. Becker wrote.
In a statement to Law&Crime, Zaid said DHS was trying to weaponize an issue more than two decades old—a “new low” for the Trump administration.
“This is incredibly unusual, and quite telling, that DHS Public Affairs is using this old public information as a perceived weapon against me,” Zaid said. “I have sued every Administration since [Bill] Clinton and been a thorn in the CIA ‘s side for the entirety of my three decade career. Yet not even CIA, which was involved in the underlying situation, ever used its Public Affairs Office to spread such trash. There were times CIA, through the Department of Justice, would mention the decision in a footnote in a legal brief, but once I received my full security clearances, especially at TS/SCI, that stopped. DHS has demonstrated a new low.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also said last week that it was “clear” DHS was intentionally attempting to prolong the clearance process for Murphy’s legal team.
“It is now clear that DHS political appointees have commandeered the security clearance process by obstructing and delaying clearances for whistleblower attorneys as part of a transparent effort to impede the Committee’s ability to ascertain the truth about serious allegations involving senior DHS and White House officials,” Schiff said in a statement.
[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
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