Jon Kyl

Former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl departs after President Donald Trump announced the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018. (
Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Washington Wrap is a weekly look at industry news and Big Law moves shaping the legal business in Washington, D.C. Send news tips and lateral moves to Ryan Lovelace at [email protected].

As denizens of D.C. Big Law go, Covington & Burling senior of counsel Jon Kyl has quietly been near the center of some of the most consequential legal matters shaping law and public policy from Washington in the last year. This week, Kyl revealed new details about his work with Facebook before he temporarily rejoined the U.S. Senate last year.

While serving as the lead sherpa for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination effort last year, Kyl was simultaneously tasked with investigating allegations of anti-conservative political bias at Facebook. Between May and August of last year, Kyl wrote this week, his team at Covington interviewed more than 130 “individuals, groups and lawmakers who either use, study or could potentially regulate Facebook.”

(Precisely who was interviewed and who did the interviews is not entirely known, but Kyl has identified Bill Wichterman and Gabe Neville, nonlawyer senior advisers on Covington’s policy team, as crucial members of his team who are “very well connected to the conservative community in Washington.”)

Kyl then rejoined the Senate in September 2018, when he was appointed to replace the late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. He served until the end of the 2018 calendar year and filed ethics disclosures showing Facebook was a top client of his that contributed to his $1.86 million haul at Covington in the previous two years.

Kyl returned to Covington’s public policy practice earlier this year, and results of his Facebook inquiry became public this week. Facebook announced the findings of Kyl’s team earlier this week in a blog post stating, “We know we need to take these concerns seriously and adjust course if our policies are in fact limiting expression in an unintended way.”

Kyl authored a companion piece in the Wall Street Journal contending that his fellow conservatives had concerns about matters involving content policies, ads and Facebook’s workforce.

“To live up to its vision as a platform for all ideas, I believe Facebook understands it must do all it can to regain the trust of conservative users,” Kyl concluded.

At least one of Kyl’s Republican colleagues in the Senate was unimpressed. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), a vocal critic of tech companies, publicly criticized Kyl’s work as a “smokescreen disguised as a solution.”

Kyl responded in an interview with the Heritage Foundation asking Hawley to, “Appreciate what we did.”

“[Facebook] hired somebody that was a conservative who could talk to these folks and receive candidly the responses back because Facebook wanted an unvarnished, truthful response,” Kyl told Heritage. “They didn’t hire us to fix the problem, as we couldn’t do that. And I’ve been a little disappointed by folks who don’t appreciate the value of simply getting the conservative complaints heard.”

Precisely how or whether the U.S. Senate addresses the conflict evident between Hawley and Kyl is sure to have an impact on lawyers and lobbyists across the nation’s capital. Law firms with large presences in D.C.—such as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr—have begun speaking more openly about their private plans to build connections between their Silicon Valley and D.C. offices.

As for Facebook, it says that Kyl and his team, “will report again in a few months’ time,” meaning Covington’s work is not yet done. Much like his work in the Senate, whenever Kyl looks to be finishing up with Facebook, he may actually just be getting started.

Law Firm Moves, News & Notes

Michael Best & Friedrich said this week it added Mark Yacura as a partner in Washington, D.C., from Quarles & Brady.

Yacura’s practice focuses on U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory matters, and he has more than 30 years’ experience handling a wide variety of FDA-related work.

Leslie Overton joined Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider as a partner in Washington, D.C.

She was previously a partner at Alston & Bird and at Jones Day, and she has completed two separate stints in the Justice Department’s antitrust division—first during former President George W. Bush’s administration and later in President Barack Obama’s administration.

Cooley recruited Eileen Marshall to its partner ranks in D.C. from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Marshall, a veteran tax attorney, said the move was “many years” in the making.

Robert Cohen is moving to Davis Polk & Wardwell as partner in Washington, D.C., and will officially start in October.

He previously spent 15 years at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including as the SEC’s first-ever chief of the division of enforcement’s cyber unit, before leaving earlier this month.

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