Concerns over White House bully Dr. Eric Lander emerged after nomination

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Concerns over White House bully Dr. Eric Lander emerged after nomination

Dr. Eric Lander, the now-former head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, raised red flags well before reports of the toxic work environment he cultivated came out this week.

Before Lander was confirmed to the Cabinet-level position in late May, members of Congress from both parties came forward with concerns about several issues, including his ties to Jeffrey Epstein and past dismissal of contributions by two female scientists to gene-editing technology. 

“The Epstein connection is of tremendous concern to us,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said during Lander’s April confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Lander, who called Epstein an “abhorrent individual” during the hearing, had been photographed with the infamous pedophile multiple times and was part of a group of scientists who specially met with Epstein in 2012 for lunch in the office of now-disgraced Harvard professor Martin Nowak. 

“The sum total of my interactions was that I met him briefly at two events within the span of three weeks in the spring of 2012,” Lander told Congress.

Lander also denied that he ever received funding from Epstein, who had claimed otherwise and was known for sinking millions of dollars into scientific institutions to boost his image.

Dr. Eric Lander speaks during an event at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware.
Flags were originally raised with Dr. Eric Lander concerning his ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
AP / Matt Slocum

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she was “troubled” by the Epstein meetings, as well as reports of Lander downplaying his female colleagues’ work on genetic engineering technology known as CRISPR, according to Science.org.

“The bottom line is that if confirmed, you will have the authority to promote the representation of women and minorities in STEM fields, so I strongly encourage you to use this hearing as an opportunity to explain how you’ve learned from your past mistakes,” she said.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) echoed Duckworth’s concern, telling Lander that “it is clear that you wanted to make sure your lab got the patents and the credit for the CRISPR technology, and in the process you may have marginalized the contributions of two other scientists whose work was essential.” 

At the time, Lander admitted that he “understated the importance” of the work of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, though he claimed that “it wasn’t my intention.” 

Eric Lander participates in a swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Harris in her ceremonial office.
Eric Lander participates in a swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Harris in her ceremonial office.
Getty Images / Anna Moneymaker

“But when I make a mistake, I own it and try to do better. I have enormous respect for what they have done,” he added.

Duckworth also voiced concern over a 2018 toast Lander made to James Watson, best known as one of the discoverers of DNA — but whom Duckworth described as “racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic.”

Lander apologized for the toast days later after receiving backlash.

“I was asked to toast James Watson last week … for his role in the Human Genome Project, on the occasion of his 90th birthday,” he wrote in an email obtained by StatNews. “People who have called this out are correct. I was wrong to toast, and I’m sorry.”

“I was conflicted about whether to do it,” he added. “I ultimately agreed to accommodate the request. But it was the wrong decision.”

Eric Lander speaks after being nominated by President Biden at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware.
Social media was flooded with calls for Lander to resign after his toast to James Watson.
AFP via Getty Images / Angela Weiss

Opposition to Lander’s nomination also emerged within the scientific community early last year. 

In January 2021, 500 Women Scientists — a grassroots organization seeking to increase diversity in STEM — published an op-ed in Scientific American titled, “Eric Lander Is Not the Ideal Choice for Presidential Science Adviser.”

The organization wrote that while President Biden had made progress in nominating people of color, women and members of the LGBT community to the administration, the choice of Lander failed “to meet the moment.”

“With this nomination, the opportunity to finally break the long lineage of white male science advisers has been missed. This was a chance to substantively address historical inequalities and transform harmful stereotypes by appointing someone with new perspectives into the top science adviser role. Despite a long list of supremely qualified people that could have held this position and inspired a whole new generation of scientists, the glass ceiling in American science remains intact,” the organization wrote. 

Lander is sworn in by Vice President Harris.
Lander had been seen with Epstein multiple times prior to his nomination.
REUTERS / Al Drago

They also pointed to Lander’s forced apology for toasting Watson, saying: “To ensure that we truly build back better—rather than simply building back the same science complete with all the inequities and prejudices that have enabled science’s most egregious wrongs—we must hold the incoming Biden administration to a higher standard.”

Lander submitted his resignation Monday evening after an internal review found credible evidence that he bullied and demeaned his staffers. 

Calls from Lander to resign flooded social media after the news first emerged, with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) – who took issue with Lander’s Epstein connection during the nomination process – saying bullying of staff was “never acceptable.” 

Lummis accused Lander of abusing his authority and Congress’ trust in a statement to The Post, calling his resignation the “right decision.”

“I confronted Eric Lander about his past conduct both in private and before my colleagues on the Commerce Committee, and he assured me that his past conduct was not an indication of his future performance,” she said. “But recent accusations suggest that he continued to abuse his authority and the trust that we placed in him when we confirmed him to run OSTP.

Eric Lander speaks after being nominated by Joe Biden.
Lander speaks after being nominated by Joe Biden.
AFP via Getty Images / Angela Weiss

“These actions were clearly not good for his office, let alone the people of Wyoming and the rest of the country, and I believe he made the right decision to resign.”

Lander is the first Cabinet official to depart the Biden administration, though his resignation appears to have caught the White House off-guard.

As of Tuesday evening, his biography was still posted on the White House website under the heading “The Director’s Office.”

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