A Facebook executive who attended Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing said it was wrong of him not to tell company leaders he planned to to attend, according to two people familiar with an internal company town hall held Friday.
Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP of global public policy, is a personal friend of Kavanaugh’s, and they worked together during the last George W. Bush administration. Kaplan sat behind Kavanaugh, among the judge’s family and friends, throughout Kavanaugh’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
In a Facebook town hall organized to address staffers’ concerns about Kaplan’s attendance, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg, “expressed frustration that Joel inserted the company into a political moment by supporting his friend – especially given his role at the company,” according to one of the people familiar with the meeting.
The other person, who watched the event, which was streamed for employees, told CNN that “people were emotional” and that Kaplan “acknowledged he erred by not telling Mark and Sheryl.”
One source stressed that Kaplan did not say it was a mistake to attend the hearing, but instead talked about his values of loyalty and friendship. Zuckerberg and Sandberg said at the town hall that it was important for Facebook to be “a place where diverse points of view are not only tolerated but supported.”
Both executives unequivocally condemned sexual assault, one source said.
Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, also weighed in on the issue in an internal post last Friday, the day after the hearing.
“I’ve talked to Joel about why I think it was a mistake for him to attend given his role in the company. We support people’s right to do what they want in their personal time but this was by no means a straight-forward case,” Sandberg wrote in an internal post seen by CNN Business. Details of the post were first reported by The New York Times.
“As a woman and someone who cares so deeply about how women are treated, the Kavanaugh issue is deeply upsetting to me — as I know it is to many women and men in our company and around the world,” she wrote.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Kaplan.
A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement, “Sexual assault is an issue society has turned a blind eye to for far too long — compounding every victim’s pain. Our leadership team recognizes that they’ve made mistakes handling the events of the last week and we’re grateful for all the feedback from our employees.”
In an internal message board posting seen by The New York Times, one Facebook employee questioned Kaplan’s decision to sit behind Kavanaugh. “Let’s assume for a minute that our VP of Policy understands how Senate hearings work,” the post said. “His seat choice was intentional, knowing full well that journalists would identify every public figure appearing behind Kavanaugh. He knew that this would cause outrage internally, but he knew that he couldn’t get fired for it. This was a protest against our culture, and a slap in the face to his fellow employees.”
Kaplan has a prominent role at the company, and was by Mark Zuckerberg’s side when he appeared before Congress last April.
Silicon Valley companies have been criticized by some on the right who say the social media giants are biased against conservatives.
Kaplan’s attendance at the hearing came a day before Facebook announced it had suffered its largest ever security breach, affecting at least 50 million users.