Joe Biden did not ask bully adviser Dr. Eric Lander to resign

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President Biden did not ask for the resignation of his top science adviser Dr. Eric Lander on Monday after a published report shed light on his bullying of employees and otherwise fostering a toxic work environment

“Dr. Lander made the decision himself to submit his resignation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about speculation that Lander would still be in his job if Politico had not brought the alleged harassment to light. 

“The president was not involved?” one of several reporters asked during Tuesday’s press briefing, the questions arising because Biden had vowed right after his inauguration to fire “on the spot” anyone who was disrespectful of other colleagues in his administration. 

“No, he was not,” Psaki said, emphasizing that Lander made the decision himself when pressed again. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden was not involved in Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation.
EPA

Lander’s resignation came hours after the Politico report revealed that an internal review found credible evidence that he bullied and demeaned his staffers. Social media flooded with calls for him to resign, particularly in light of Biden’s Day 1 vow. 

“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect or talk down to someone, I promise you, I will fire you on the spot — on the spot. No ifs ands or buts,” Biden told the staffers on inauguration day. 

“Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”

On Tuesday, Psaki clarified that the president was made aware of the internal investigation “after the conclusion of the investigation,” which finished back in December. 

Biden accepted Lander’s resignation on Monday evening. 

When pressed on why the White House did not make the findings of the investigation public, Psaki did not answer the question but insisted the “full process” was completed at the end of January, noting that it included meetings with Lander on what steps he would be required to take as well as how to prevent a similar issue from happening again. 

President Joe Biden
President Biden had warned staffers that would fire them “on the spot” if they disrespected others.
EPA

“Sometimes officials speak publicly as they did in this case, and then that’s their prerogative,” she said. 

The press secretary maintained that people “should be assured” that the White House and president is “committed to maintaining a healthy work environment” as well as creating a channel to address any issues that come up in the future. 

The internal investigation found that of the roughly 140 staffers in the office, 14 current and former employees said they had experienced a toxic environment working under Lander. Nine of those staffers claimed Lander would yell and humiliate employees in front of their peers.

It did not find evidence of gender-based discrimination and the reassignment of the staffer who filed the initial complaint last year was “appropriate,” according to the White House.

The scientist expressed remorse for his actions in his resignation letter, saying “I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them.”

Eric Lander
An internal review found credible evidence that Lander bullied and demeaned his staffers.
AFP via Getty Images

“I believe it is not possible to continue effectively in my role, and the work of this office is far too important to be hindered,” he added.

Lander is the first cabinet-level departure of the Biden administration.

The White House does plan to fill his position, however Psaki did not provide an update on timing to do so on Tuesday. She affirmed that the president remains confident in the Office of Science and Technology Policy and their “ability to move forward.”

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