Biden's Science Advisor: Not One, but Two Scandals

Over the past year, the Biden administration has achieved an ignominious consistency of scandal and incompetence.

There are not one but two concurrent scandals involving the now-former director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Biden's top science adviser Eric Lander.

The first scandal is related to conflict of interest. reported that Lander had significant investments in one of the vaccine makers while he actively promoted COVID-19 vaccination in his official capacity.

Under the White House’s ethics agreement signed by Lander, he had 90 days to sell off his stocks after his appointment on May 28, 2021. During these 90 days, Lander had agreed he would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity until I have divested it unless I first obtain a written waiver... or qualify for a regulatory exemption.”

Last February, in response to Axios' question about the potential conflict of interest the White House claimed that “Lander is recused from particular matters related to any stocks he holds pending divestiture, including any such matters related to COVID vaccines'

The OSTP also dismissed questions regarding conflict of interest raised by Politico, claiming that “The law is clear -- and conversations and opinion pieces telling people they should get vaccinated during a global pandemic are not even close to an ethics concern” 

However, Lander retained stocks of BioNTech SE worth $500,000 to $1 million until Aug. 5, while he promoted COVID-19 vaccines. BioNTech SE, the German biotechnology company and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine partner.

Lander wrote the following Boston Globe in June 2021:

“We need to keep up the pressure to truly defeat the pandemic by ensuring that everyone is vaccinated. You can do your part by respectfully reaching out to people you know who haven’t yet been vaccinated.”

The Globe recently added a disclaimer about Lander's stock holdings.

On Aug. 4, a day before he sold the stock, Lander wrote the following in Washington Post where he promoted investing in a 'new infrastructure to combat future pandemics':

“Coronavirus vaccines can end the current pandemic if enough people choose to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated.”

The Post hasn’t added any disclaimer thus far.

On the day of the sale of his stock, 69 days after his appointment, BioNTech had reached $404.92 per share. This was BioNTech’s second-highest stock price ever and a rise of more than $50 from two days before.

A fundamental principle of ethics while trading in the stock market is that investments are made on information available in the public domain.

Benefiting financially due to access to restricted information or a role in government where you promote a policy is both unethical and illegal.

The laws and guidelines will not always cover every potential scenario regarding conflicts of interest. Hence, it is up to the individual, his superiors, and compliance bodies to prevent any ethics violations.

The Biden administration, having been fervent proponents of the vaccine, should know that such news adds to the considerable vaccine skepticism and hesitancy.

A public servant must exhibit very high standards of ethics, this is what makes Lander’s conflict of interest, even more problematic. Much like the mandates he was promoting, Lander should have been mandated to sell his BioNTech stock, or else his government employment should have been kept on hold.

Lander's second scandal relates to his unethical conduct in office.

Politico reported “In an office of roughly 140 people, 14 current and former OSTP staffers who worked under Lander this past year shared similar descriptions of a toxic work environment where they say Lander frequently bullied, cut off and dismissed subordinates. Nine of those current and former OSTP staffers said Lander yelled and sometimes made people feel humiliated in front of their peers.”

Such was the toxicity created by Lander that the accusers requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

An internal White House investigation found credible evidence that proved the accusers' claims.

Early, last Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that senior personnel had rebuked Lander for his conduct and had informed him that corrective actions were needed which would be monitored. Lander was allowed to remain in his role.

But later that evening, Psaki said Biden had accepted Lander’s resignation with “gratitude for his work at OTSP on the pandemic, the Cancer Moonshot, climate change, and other key priorities.”

Lander, in his resignation letter, said, “I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them.”

The White House said Biden did not request Lander’s resignation.

It has to be remembered that Biden has issued a stern warning to his appointees on his inauguration day that he will ‘fire them on the spot' if they disrespected their colleagues

The fact that the toxic office environment was allowed for almost eight months raises questions about ethics. The people at the OTSP must have already been under great stress owing to the pandemic. The inhuman Lander added to their woes with his bullying and humiliation. 

Once again, the Democrats display their hypocrisy when they claim to stand for the afflicted and the powerless.

Lander was always a controversial figure, causing a delay in his confirmation by months.

There were concerns about Lander’s multiple meetings with the late Jeffrey Epstein and the disgraced financier who was charged with sex trafficking and pedophilia. Lander had called Epstein an “abhorrent individual” during his confirmation.

Back in 2016, Lander was accused of conflict of interest when he wrote a column downplaying the contributions of Nobel Prize-winning biochemists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna in a gene-editing technology called CRISPR. Lander didn’t disclose an ongoing patent dispute regarding CRISPR between Broad Institute, founded by Lander, and the University of California where the Nobel laureates worked.

A man such as Lander with a record of questionable behavior should never have been confirmed. It once again raises serious questions regarding the process of vetting and confirmation. 

Why didn’t the Republicans either block Lander’s confirmation or raise objections when he was confirmed?

His role had probably dictated the various COVID-19 related restrictions and mandates that made the lives of citizens very harder.

Beyond Lander, the question remains: what other conflicts of interest exist in Washington that citizens will never know of?

A study by the Campaign Legal Center showed that lawmakers traded in stocks hundreds of times throughout the coronavirus pandemic, investing in sectors relevant due to the COVID-19  and disposed stocks from sectors harmed by the pandemic.

We have seen conflicts of interest among those advocating for war with Russia.

No wonder it is called a swamp, and it has to be drained soon!

Image: JustGrimes

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