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Twitter Hires Former FBI General Counsel Amid Trump Fight (1)

June 16, 2020, 8:58 PMUpdated: June 16, 2020, 10:24 PM

Twitter Inc. has brought on former FBI general counsel James Baker to its growing legal department as the company remains locked in a highly public battle with President Donald Trump over guidelines on its popular social media platform.

Baker has joined Twitter as deputy general counsel, the company’s general counsel Sean Edgett said in a Monday night tweet. More than a half-dozen lawyers to have joined Twitter so far this year, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Law.

Edgett noted via tweet that Baker “is committed to our core principles of an open internet and freedom of expression, and brings experience navigating complex, global issues with a principled approach.”

Baker in his own tweet said he’s “excited to join such a great team” at Twitter. Neither Baker nor Edgett responded to requests for comment.

Edgett is serving as Twitter’s top in-house lawyer with chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde on maternity leave. Gadde, who has served as the company’s chief legal and policy executive for nearly a decade, earned more than $7.9 million in total compensation last year, including more than $573,000 in cash. Bloomberg data shows that Gadde also owns $28.34 million in Twitter stock.

Baker’s Battles

While Baker’s pay package at Twitter is not known, as a matter of comparison, his old boss at the FBI, former director James Comey, earned roughly $172,000 in base salary during his last year as head of the bureau.

At Twitter, Baker reunites with Dawn Burton, a fellow former federal prosecutor who served as deputy chief of staff to Comey at the FBI. Burton left the FBI in August 2019 and joined Twitter the next month as director of strategy and operations and counsel organization.

Baker spent almost 20 years in a variety of roles at the Justice Department, where he sandwiched a year-long stint as an assistant general counsel for national security at Verizon Communications Inc. Baker also worked two years as an associate general counsel at hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates LP in Westport, Conn., where Comey served as general counsel prior to becoming head of the FBI in late 2013.

Comey hired Baker in January 2014 to serve as general counsel of the FBI. Baker’s FBI tenure was closely tied to Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017. Baker was removed as general counsel in December that year and reassigned to a senior strategic advisory role as current FBI director Christopher Wray installed his own leadership team.

Baker left the FBI in May 2018, a little more than three months after incurring Trump’s wrath via tweet over his involvement in a federal investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Within the past two years, Baker has taught at Harvard Law School, worked a legal analyst for CNN, a frequent foil for Trump, and served as director of national and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Legal Recruits

The move comes as Twitter faces several high-profile legal and public policy matters.

The company recently attracted criticism from conservatives over its decision to apply fact-checking labels to some of Trump’s tweets, as it has done to leaders from other countries. Twitter also joined Reddit Inc. and the Internet Association in supporting a freedom of speech lawsuit challenging federal rules requiring U.S. visa applicants to disclose their social media handles.

Within the past six months, Twitter has recruited over a half-dozen new in-house lawyers and promoted at least two more.

In May, the company hired Quora Inc. deputy general counsel Christian Dowell as a director and associate general counsel for consumer product and senior privacy counsel Laura Lemire, who spent a decade at Microsoft Corp., according to their respective LinkedIn profiles.

Twitter also promoted senior legal director of compliance Marianne Fogarty—a former lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner and Davis Polk & Wardwell—to chief compliance officer in May, a month after vice president and deputy general counsel Daniel Brennan was elevated to interim general counsel. Brennan received the title after Edgett assumed Gadde’s duties when she went on maternity leave—Twitter offers 20 weeks paid leave to new parents.

In April, Twitter brought on Baker McKenzie associate Chetan Gupta as a data protection counsel, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati associate Michael Petrocelli as senior legal product counsel, and Netflix Inc. data privacy and security counsel Michael Miller II as senior legal product counsel. Those additions came after Twitter recruited former Facebook Inc. associate general counsel Charlotte Lewis Jones as senior product counsel, Zeitgeist Law founder and principal Marcia Hofmann as product counsel, and Jordan Hinkes, a former senior director and associate general counsel at social singing app Smule Inc., as product counsel.

Twitter also hired Harvard Law School graduate Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a former executive vice president of government and corporate affairs at Univision Communications Inc., as vice president of policy and philanthropy for the Americas. Gadde tweeted in mid-March that Herrera-Flanigan “brings unique public service, tech, social impact & media experience” to Twitter’s Washington office.

Guardant Health Inc. announced Tuesday its appointment of Gadde to its board of directors, a role that gives her more than $362,000 in restricted stock awards, according to a securities filing by the Redwood City, Calif.-based oncology company. Twitter’s 2019 proxy statement shows that Gadde’s sister earned $275,000 in cash last year in her role as senior manager of strategic partnerships. Kavitha Gadde works for MoPub, a third-party advertising company acquired by Twitter for $350 million in 2013.

(Adds information on Gadde's Guardant Health board appointment in last paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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