Among the revelations in Monday’s Axios dump of Trump transition team vetting documents: Facebook's global policy head and top Republican Joel Kaplan was considered for a Cabinet position. Kaplan, nicknamed Facebook’s “Lonely Conservative” by The Wall Street Journal last year, runs the company's lobbying efforts out of its Washington, D.C., office.
The Trump transition team looked at Kaplan to lead the Office of Management and Budget, a former Facebook employee told The Daily Beast. It’s not clear how seriously Kaplan was considered for the job.
Two senior members of the Trump transition team did not recall his name coming up prominently during those discussions, though Kaplan was spotted at Trump Tower in December 2016 for an undisclosed meeting. The Senate confirmed Mick Mulvaney as Office of Management and Budget director in February of 2017 following his appointment in December.
Kaplan's file was leaked along with files on more than 40 other individuals, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, and others. Many of the individuals listed would go on to become household names in the Trump administration.
According to his vetting file, Kaplan’s “red flags,” include a number of news stories on his lobbying history, support for Bush-era immigration reform and partisanship classification as a “weak Republican.” The vetting file also addresses Kaplan's stance on accusations that Facebook is “silencing conservatives,” making a note that he denied anti-conservative bias at Facebook and stated “conservative groups [are] thriving on the network.”
A sub-section on Kaplan’s political soft spots includes questions for Kaplan like, “To your knowledge, were there any active efforts by Facebook to censor ‘pro-Trump messages’ from Facebook users who supported the President-elect?” and “Do you believe it is appropriate for any private company to censor or edit content based on its political message on such a platform?”
Prior to Kaplan's time steering policy at the world's biggest social network, he spent three years as the Deputy Director for the Office of Management and Budget and worked as a policy aide in the George W. Bush White House. Kaplan joined Facebook in 2011 as vice president of U.S. public policy and became vice president of global public policy three years later.
Kaplan has been described as a traditional conservative and not a Trump enthusiast but has still defended Trump when necessary. The Journal reported that Kaplan personally defended a Facebook user whitelist known as cross-check that protects posts by Trump and other high profile accounts, even when they might run afoul of the platform’s rules.
Remarkable given the outsized power he wields within the company, Kaplan mostly managed to stay away from the spotlight until he was finally dragged into partisan squabbles a few years ago. In 2016, the company trotted Kaplan out to deny a report that conservative topics and outlets were left out of its trending topics module. “I love the fact that conservative voices are so strong on Facebook — and that we are the place where the political debate takes place,” Kaplan wrote in a public Facebook post at the time. “But ultimately my own political perspective isn't what matters. What's important is that we are truly open to everyone — and that they know it.” Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg both responded to the thread thanking Kaplan for the post.
A week later, Kaplan had orchestrated a meeting that brought 16 conservative figures to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, including Fox News anchor Dana Perino and a Trump campaign senior adviser. The group met with Zuckerberg and Sandberg—a strong signal of the seriousness with which Facebook took the threat of conservative backlash, whether justified or not.
Two years later, Kaplan created his own PR crisis for Facebook when he took a prominent, camera-facing seat at Brett Kavanaugh's deeply controversial Supreme Court hearing. The appearance ignited a firestorm among Facebook employees who saw Kaplan’s choice to sit front and center on live television as a symbol of their company’s own attitude toward sexual assault survivors. “This was a protest against our culture, and a slap in the face to his fellow employees,” one Facebook employee wrote on an internal message board. To make matters worse, Kaplan reportedly threw a celebration party for the beleaguered Supreme Court nominee, hosting Kavanaugh, his wife and other celebrants at their home following his confirmation.
The internal rift around Kaplan’s actions escalated to the point that Zuckerberg addressed it himself, defending his colleague in a staff meeting.
With many female employees unsatisfied with the situation, the notoriously controversy-averse Sandberg eventually waded in too, admitting that “it was a mistake for [Kaplan] to attend given his role in the company.” Kaplan, a family friend of Kavanaugh, expressed regret for not running the appearance by Facebook's top leadership.