• Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

Insurer Drops Whistle-Blower Lawyer, Citing High-Profile Work

A lawyer for the government whistle-blower whose concerns about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine sparked impeachment proceedings has been dropped by his malpractice insurer because his underwriter said it had no “appetite” for his “high-profile” work.

The lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, said he learned of the decision not to renew his lawyer’s professional liability coverage through a letter from the insurer, the Hanover Insurance Group, last month.

“I was literally stunned,” said Mr. Zaid, who assumed it was a mistake until he confirmed the decision with Hanover’s general counsel. The insurer declined his request to reverse course, Mr. Zaid said.

A Hanover senior compliance consultant, Adam Stanhope, said in a letter to Mr. Zaid that the insurer discovered his whistle-blower practice when it reviewed his website, and that such an area of law was “ineligible” for coverage.

Mr. Zaid disputed that, saying he was asked about — and discussed — his whistle-blower practice when he was applying for insurance coverage in 2019, and he provided emails bolstering his account.

Mr. Zaid also said he did not consider Hanover’s view to be a legitimate explanation, noting that he has had the same law practice for 25 years and has had a number of high-profile cases.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Hanover, Emily P. Trevallion, said, “This decision did not relate in any way whatsoever to any particular client of Mr. Zaid or the role that any such client may have played in the president’s impeachment proceedings.”

She said that Hanover’s liability coverage was not meant for highly specialized areas of law like Mr. Zaid’s whistle-blower work. “We determined that it was not aligned with our underwriting guidelines and consequently decided not to renew his policy,” she said.

Asked about the emails, Hanover said it was examining them but did not immediately comment.

The decision shows some of the risks that whistle-blowers and those who work with them can face. Government workers or others inside organizations who seek to bring problems to light face several risks, including to their jobs and occasionally their safety. Several laws are in place to protect government whistle-blowers from reprisal, but they don’t protect whistle-blowers or their counsel from all blowback.

After the account of the whistle-blower, an unidentified C.I.A. analyst, came into public view, Mr. Trump repeatedly lashed out, at one point at an official gathering alluding to punishment for “spies” and implying it should apply to the whistle-blower.

Mr. Zaid first applied for the policy in October 2019, just as the whistle-blower complaint was gaining widespread attention and Democrats were moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry over Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The whistle-blower conveyed his concerns to the inspector general for the intelligence community, who shared them with Congress, touching off a fight between the White House and the House Intelligence Committee.

The impeachment inquiry centered on a phone call in July 2019 when Mr. Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations that could have benefited Mr. Trump politically. Mr. Trump, who was withholding congressionally approved military assistance earmarked for Ukraine, pressed Mr. Zelensky for an investigation into Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden.

The House approved two articles of impeachment. But only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, joined Democrats in voting to convict Mr. Trump during the Senate trial. Mr. Trump has since insisted he was exonerated, and has lashed out at people who backed impeachment.

Mr. Zaid said Hanover’s lack of “appetite” for such coverage served the aims of people who wished to silence whistle-blowers.

“By taking this decision, Hanover is sending a horrible message that is being echoed by the Trump administration, that whistle-blowers are not legitimate and do not deserve protection,” Mr. Zaid said. “One must question why this decision occurred now, in the wake of my representing a whistle-blower whose allegations not only proved to be true, but led to the impeachment of the president of the United States.”

Mr. Zaid said he had never had a client file a claim against him.

Hanover’s decision may be related to Mr. Trump’s use of the court system to try to silence journalists and critics, delay investigations into his administration or his personal finances and to fight attempts at transparency, said Joshua Geltzer, a visiting professor of law at Georgetown and the executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

“This may be another casualty of Trump’s abuse of litigation, even frivolous, to deter what’s actually lawful activity he dislikes,” Mr. Geltzer said. He noted that the president has sued news outlets, bringing cases that Mr. Geltzer said are usually “legally baseless but which impose litigation costs on media outlets.”

“That sort of abuse of our legal system may influence insurance estimates even if the legal claims by Trump don’t pass the laugh test,” he added.