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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 developer conference. (Facebook photo)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks a Warren presidency would “suck for us.”

That’s what the besieged executive told employees at a July meeting, according to recordings obtained by The Verge and released Tuesday.

Zuckerberg has a point. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has corporate America in her crosshairs and when it comes to Big Tech, she believes industry behemoths should be broken up. Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 includes a proposal to unwind acquisitions made by Facebook, Amazon, and Google, claiming antitrust authorities should have stopped them from going through in the first place.

The leaked recordings provide a glimpse into Zuckerberg’s calculus as he and his peers navigate a growing techlash. Warren’s response on Twitter this morning shows that the pioneers of the Big Tech crackdown are prepared for a fight.

What Zuck said: In response to an employee question about Warren and the broader regulatory scrutiny of Facebook, Zuckerberg said, “if she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge.” But he warned that the battle would “still suck for us” because “we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things.”

“But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight,” Zuckerberg added.

He also noted that the strategy of breaking up big tech companies is misguided, namechecking some of Facebook’s peers in the process.

“It’s just that breaking up these companies, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon, is not actually going to solve the issues,” he said. More on that later.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Warren’s clapback: Warren didn’t waste much time before responding to Zuckerberg’s comments. She put out tweets doubling down on her position.

Background: Warren is the loudest, but hardly the only, government official calling for more scrutiny and regulation of the tech industry. The issue extends beyond the Democratic campaign trail. The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department are looking into the nation’s biggest tech companies to find out whether their behavior violates competition laws. Facebook has had a particularly rough road due to highly publicized scandals like Cambridge Analytica, but Amazon, Google, and Apple are also under a microscope.

Competition versus election security? Zuckerberg told employees that breaking up social media companies could pose a greater risk to election security than keeping those giants intact.

Related: In campaign stop near Amazon, Elizabeth Warren avoids confronting tech giant on breakup plan

“It doesn’t make election interference less likely,” he said. “It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together. It doesn’t make any of the hate speech or issues like that less likely. It makes it more likely because now … all the processes that we’re putting in place and investing in, now we’re more fragmented.”

Reality check: Tech companies are coordinating to address some of the biggest political challenges they face. It’s an effort spearheaded by Microsoft, which initiated a multi-sector, international task force to deal with acts of violent extremism that spread online. But breaking up social media companies doesn’t necessarily come at the cost of election security. One reason foreign agents were so successful in spreading disinformation during the 2016 election was their ability to take advantage of Facebook’s algorithms and unprecedented reach.

Why it matters: Zuckerberg may appear chastened and apologetic in Congressional hearings but his internal comments show Facebook is bracing for a fight. Between the current administration’s antitrust investigations and the specter of a hard-on-tech candidate winning the presidency in 2020, a protracted battle over the power of Big Tech is likely in our future.

Update: Zuckerberg responded to the leaked transcript by publishing a link to The Verge’s coverage on his personal Facebook page.

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