Mark Zuckerberg claims he's willing to testify under the "right circumstances" before Congress about the mess engulfing his company's giveaway of private information to Cambridge Analytica.
And Washington's crisis management handlers have some advice for him.
Pros who specialize in helping embattled executives survive the crucible say it requires preparation and practice, a lot of quick thinking, some acting chops and, ultimately, endurance.
First comes extensive prep work, says Ron Bonjean, a strategic communications adviser who helped shepherd President Trump's Cabinet nominees and Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch through their Senate confirmations last year.
Zuckerberg will want to have his answers down cold on policy matters likely to come up. He opened one can of worms Wednesday, for example, by telling CNN that the company could embrace some forms of regulation. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," Zuckerberg told the network. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."
That drew a surprised response from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the senators who's called on Zuckerberg to testify:
Just watched Mark Zuckerberg on @CNN & I was surprised to hear him say he supported the senate bill on election ads. That’s my bill—the Honest Ads Act—w/ @SenJohnMcCain & @MarkWarner ..It’s a new position for Facebook & we’d like to get it done before election. Twitter? Google?— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 22, 2018
Earlier, she reiterated her call for Zuckerberg to testify:
The steps Facebook has laid out to protect its users are a start but Zuckerberg still needs to come testify. Facebook should show good faith & support the Honest Ads Act. To truly regain the public’s trust, Facebook must make significant changes so this doesn’t happen again.— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 21, 2018
It's still a very open question whether the 33-year-old Silicon Valley princeling will actually come before lawmakers Even chief executives with considerable track records have wilted under the hot television lights and withering questioning from lawmakers who are either angry or pretending to be. And Zuckerberg has never testified before Congress.
But the multibillionaire technology whiz seemed to understand that he needs to start engaging in some serious damage control following revelations that his company gave troves of data to an analytics firm that helped President Trump win the 2016 election. The Facebook chief executive posted an extended mea culpa Wednesday afternoon, then took that apology on tour in interviews with CNN, the New York Times, Recode and Wired. The blitz by the publicity-shy executive followed five days of silence on his company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica mess.
And he indicated he might be willing to go even further. “The short answer is I'm happy to if it's the right thing to do,” Zuckerberg told CNN about the prospect of testifying before Congress. "What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge … If that's me, then I am happy to go.”
To prepare for a Capitol Hill grilling, if he subjects himself to it, Bonjean says, Zuckerberg should borrow a page from nominees seeking Senate confirmation by running through a series of mock hearings, complete with stand-ins for congressional committee members impersonating their lines of questions.
Zuckerberg’s team should use the process to fine-tune his answers. “They should establish what type of tone and approach he’s going to use,” Bonjean said. “Any sign of irritation toward lawmakers — eye-rolling or changes in volume — can affect the outcome. This is going to be on live television, and this is a performance craft.”
Zuckerberg will have two primary audiences — a viewing public anxious to be reassured that Facebook is taking the necessary steps to secure users' privacy; and the lawmakers in the room who want straight answers and, in some cases, the opportunity to lay into the executive without him pushing back too hard. “You’ve got to be able to take your lumps and not react,” says longtime Washington lawyer Stan Brand of Akin Gump.
Brand tells the story of representing then-General Dynamics CEO David Lewis in 1985 as he testified before a House panel eager to rake him over the coals. At one point, Lewis leaned over to Brand and asked, “Do I have to sit here and take this s---?” Brand said he told the chief executive — “a distinguished man with a great record” — that indeed he did. “Absorb it,” Brand told him.
An appearance by Zuckerberg wouldn’t be purely about the public spectacle. “The question in a question of congressional testimony is, ‘What is the goal?’ That’s not a media opportunity, right, or at least it's not supposed to be,” Zuckerberg told CNN. “The goal there I think is to get Congress all the information they need to do their extremely important job.”
But the Facebook founder will also need to tread a fine line in his answers, keeping in mind that the company faces a Federal Trade Commission investigation into whether with the Cambridge Analytica breach it violated the terms of a 2011 consent decree.
“The FTC is who you’d worry about,” says Bill Taylor, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder who has represented high-profile clients facing congressional scrutiny. “I would argue for going to the FTC right away and having a conversation to try to get some understanding of the disputed facts.”
And if Zuckerberg does come to the Hill, he'll also need to remember to pace himself. It's likely to go long — and will almost certainly be followed by appearances in front of other committees. Says Brand, "All the committees with jurisdiction are going to want a piece of him."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this headline misspelled Mark Zuckerberg. It has been updated.
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— Interest rate hits decade high. The Post's Heather Long: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its key interest rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, the highest level since 2008. The move, the central bank's first major decision under new Chairman Jerome H. Powell, was widely expected as the U.S. economy continues to strengthen and stock markets remain near record highs. The Fed also significantly boosted its forecast for U.S. growth this year and next. The U.S. economy is on track to expand 2.7 percent this year and 2.4 percent in 2019, Fed officials now say, a jump from their previous projection done before the Republican tax cuts were finalized. 'The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,' the Fed said in its statement Wednesday."
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From Bloomberg's Matthew Boesler:
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From WSJ's Greg Ip:
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A shift away from theories and models. Bloomberg's Craig Torres and Christoper Condon: "Powell showed he will be guided by the U.S. economy’s performance rather than the theories and models relied upon by his predecessors to set monetary policy for the past three decades... Powell signaled he won’t try to guess the limits of the labor market or the growth-boosting effects of Republican tax cuts. His message: He’ll know the economy is changing when he sees it... [Powell] declined to be drawn deeply into professorial discussions about the economy."
From the New Yorker's John Cassidy:
Powell is good at seeming to answer questions directly while giving away very little.— John Cassidy (@JohnCassidy) March 21, 2018
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The Post's Ed O'Keefe, Mike and Erica have a rundown of highlights in the bill here.
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Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming. Most importantly, got $700 Billion to rebuild our Military, $716 Billion next year...most ever. Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
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(Bloomberg runs down possible targets of Chinese retaliation, from soybeans to student visas, here.)
From Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs:
Trump will announce on Thursday the actions he has decided to take against China for stealing U.S. technologies and intellectual property, White House confirms.— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) March 21, 2018
I’m told this announcement will happen after the stock market closes.
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From the New Yorker:
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