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Facebook VP’s Appearance at Kavanaugh Hearing Sparks Internal Turmoil

Joel Kaplan apologizes to social network employees for supporting longtime friend

A Facebook executive’s conspicuous appearance behind Brett Kavanaugh during his testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee last week has confused and angered hundreds of the social network’s employees, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP of global public policy, was in attendance to support his “good friend,” the Wall Street Journal reported, as Kavanaugh adamantly denied he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford while they were in high school. Kaplan was seated only a few rows behind Kavanaugh, which incensed many Facebook employees and caused them to vent about the appearance on the company’s internal messaging system.

“Yes, Joel, we see you,” one programmer wrote, according to the New York Times.

“Let’s assume for a minute that our VP of Policy understands how senate hearings work,” the same employee wrote. “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.”

The uproar has forced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to weigh in. Zuckerberg told employees last Friday at its weekly all-hands meeting he wouldn’t have made the same choice, but that Kaplan hadn’t broken any company rules, according to the WSJ. That explanation was “painful to hear,” according to the NYT, for many employees who felt that Zuckerberg was underestimating Ford’s sexual assault claims.

Facebook did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on the matter. “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,” Facebook spokeswoman Roberta Thomson told the NYT on Thursday.

“I’ve talked to Joel about why I think it was a mistake for him to attend given his role in the company,” Sandberg wrote on the company’s internal message board, according to the WSJ. “We support people’s right to do what they want in their personal time but this was by no means a straight-forward case.”

Kaplan also responded to the internal protests. He apologized to the staff in a note last Friday, according to the NYT, and said he’d known the Kavanaugh family for 20 years. “I believe in standing by your friends, especially when times are tough for them,” Kaplan wrote in the memo.

A confirmation vote on Kavanaugh could come as early as Saturday.