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Meet the lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter set to testify before Congress

Who is on the hot seat this week? Here’s a closer look.

Facebook, Google And Twitter Executives Testify Before Congress On Russian Disinformation
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch (C) and Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett (R) arrive to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill October 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Here come the lawyers.

Congress is set to grill Facebook, Twitter and Google this week for more information about how their respective platforms were used by Russian sources to try and sway last year’s U.S. election. Recode already reported that Russia’s efforts were more widespread than initially thought, and Facebook and Twitter are both expected to update Congress with new data around how many accounts and people were possibly impacted by Russian propaganda.

Set to answer (or dodge) the ensuing questions from Congress: The company lawyers. All three tech firms are sending their general counsels in lieu of more well-known executives.

Why? Probably a number of reasons. Lawyers are usually pretty good at knowing what to say — and more importantly, what not to say — and may be best equipped to handle questions about potential advertising regulations that some members of Congress hope to pass. Expect the companies to point to their own, very recent promises to self-regulate political advertising as a way to show Congress that more formal federal laws aren’t necessary.

In fact, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told Law360 that government regulation is one of the things that keeps him up at night.

“We do think a lot about the evolving regulatory environment, particularly internationally,” he said. “We find that given the pace of change in the industry, we worry that some of the regulatory reaction would be not fully thought out. So we worry about unintended consequences of regulatory reaction.”

Sending in the lawyers also creates a smaller, less exciting spectacle than sending in the CEO. That means you won’t be hearing from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey or Google’s Sundar Pichai. (In Facebook’s case, the company scheduled its Q3 earnings call on the same day, which means Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg will be conveniently occupied.)

The first hearing is set for Tuesday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee led by Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham that’s focused on crime and terrorism. All three companies will also testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning, and the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

So if you won’t hear from Zuckerberg, Pichai or Dorsey, who will you be hearing from?

Colin Stretch, Facebook

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch.
Colin Stretch

Stretch has been with Facebook since 2010, but didn’t become the company’s general counsel until 2013 after he’d already handled some of Facebook’s biggest legal problems. Stretch was the “lead negotiator” for Facebook when it settled with the FTC over user privacy complaints in 2011 (Facebook had to implement clearer policies around what user information it was collecting and sharing). The Harvard Law grad also led Facebook’s legal efforts against the Winklevoss twins when the duo appealed Facebook’s initial $65 million settlement payment after arguing that they, not Zuckerberg, had actually invented Facebook. The appeal was dropped in 2011.

More recently, though, Stretch — who reports to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — has been leading Facebook’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Alex Stamos, the company’s Chief Security Officer who’s been tasked with hunting down any and all ads and posts, reports up to Stretch.

Kent Walker and Richard Salgado, Google

Google General Counsel Kent Walker.
Kent Walker
Google executive Richard Salgado
Richard Salgado
Win McNamee / Getty

Google is splitting the two days of testimonies between two executives. Walker, Google’s general counsel who reports to CEO Sundar Pichai, will handle questions and testimony on Wednesday in front of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Salgado, who will represent Google on Tuesday in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, oversees information security and law enforcement matters for Google.

In addition to being the company’s top lawyer, Walker oversees all trust and safety and public policy for Google. He was with the company when it restructured from Google to Alphabet; oversees Google’s philanthropy unit,; and spearheaded the company’s response to PRISM, the NSA’s surveillance program, according to a source familiar with his role. He previously worked at other tech companies like eBay and Netscape, and prior to that was an assistant U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice focused on tech issues and the prosecution of tech crimes.

Part of the reason Salgado is handling the Tuesday briefing is that he oversees law enforcement and national security issues for Google, and Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee briefing could extend into extremist content, like terrorist recruiting. The Yale Law grad has been with Google since 2009, and is also a lecturer at Stanford where he teaches a class on government surveillance laws and practices.

Sean Edgett, Twitter

Sean Edgett, acting general counsel of Twitter	Twitter

Edgett is Twitter’s deputy general counsel, but is serving as acting general counsel in place of Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde, who is on maternity leave through the end of the year. Edgett joined Twitter five years ago from enterprise storage company NetApp, and usually handles Twitter’s corporate legal responsibilities, which includes things like earnings and mergers and acquisitions. Edgett graduated from Pepperdine Law School and was one of two lawyers, alongside Gadde, listed on Twitter’s S-1 documents when the company went public in 2013.

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