EXCLUSIVE: Eric Schmidt, the billionaire, former Google CEO and longtime Democratic donor, flew President Biden’s former top science adviser Eric Lander to a posh Montana retreat during his tenure in the White House, emails reviewed by Fox News Digital reveal.
Internal White House emails — obtained by government watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) and shared exclusively with Fox News Digital — reveal that in July 2021, Lander, his wife Lori, and daughter Jessica flew on a private jet that was managed by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic venture Schmidt founded in 2017, after the private Yellowstone Weekend summit hosted by Schmidt in Montana each year.
A Lander spokesperson told Fox News Digital that former Schmidt Futures official has reimbursed his travel expenses and that the office of White House counsel has approved the trip. However, PPT executive Michael Chamberlain expressed concern over Lander’s decision to travel.
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“To inappropriately take private or charter flights for travel is the undoing of more than one senior executive in the executive branch,” Chamberlain told Fox News Digital. “The personnel and resources that have poured into OSTP from a handful of wealthy, powerful individuals and organizations should make the American public consider whether perhaps the factors driving that generosity are not entirely altruistic.”
“The Biden administration has made a very public commitment to putting science before politics and has spoken widely about adherence to its research integrity policies,” Chamberlain continued. “The public remains skeptical, and this incident does nothing to quell that skepticism.”
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Former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander (left) and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (right) are pictured. (Alex Wong/Getty Images | Lukas Schulze/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images)
At the time of the trip, Lander was director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which gave him a leadership role in policymaking in the Biden administration. He finally resigned last year after allegations that he had treated staff “disrespectfully and demeaning”.
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In an email dated July 11, 2021, Adam Topper, office assistant for Schmidt Futures, emailed Lander, his wife Lori and OSTP Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin Lo on behalf of Schmidt and Jared Cohen, an associate of Schmidt and the President of global business at Goldman. Sachs, featuring Yellowstone Weekend’s itinerary and travel arrangements.
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According to the email, Lander, his wife, and his daughter traveled on July 15, 2021 on a “Schmidt Futures Charter” from Washington, D.C. to Montana, and back days later. Schmidt and Cohen also provided accommodations for Lander and his family near the exclusive Yellowstone Club, the sprawling member-only ski and golf resort in Big Sky, Montana, which hosts Yellowstone Weekend each summer.
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“On behalf of your hosts, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, we so look forward to welcoming you to the 10th Annual Yellowstone Weekend next week!” Topper wrote to Lander in the July 2021 email days before the trip.
Schmidt’s aide informs Lander of his travel arrangements, including travel by private jet to and from Montana for the retreat, in a message sent to his White House email address. (Protect public trust)
In addition to listing his flight and accommodation details, the email stated that the Landers would be housed with fellow Yellowstone Weekend visitors Matteo Renzi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, and Mathias Cormann, the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And an attached schedule of events showed that the summit included various “sessions,” receptions, and activities.
“Dr. Lander has received clearance from the Office of White House Counsel for this trip and has reimbursed all applicable expenses,” Lander’s spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement.
A source close to the conference confirmed that Lander requested an invoice for the trip in August 2021 and his payment has since been received.
According to a 2020 report by the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project, little is known about Schmidt’s secretive retreat, other than that it routinely attracts high-profile politicians, policy analysts, celebrities, and executives. Senator Cory Booker, DN.J., musicians Lady Gaga and Leon Bridges, actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, journalist Ronan Farrow, and several DC insiders are all counted among past celebrity attendees.
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In addition, the White House emails reviewed by Fox News Digital revealed that Lander exchanged multiple emails with Cohen and Topper about the ethical implications of attending the event a month prior to the retreat. However, the communication did not address the potential implications of the private jet travel and accommodations provided to Lander.
In an email to Cohen on June 19, 2021, Lander said he spoke with White House legal advisers who briefed him on a series of conditions for the trip he listed.
The Yellowstone Weekend 2021 event schedule is pictured. The document, obtained through Lander’s emails, provides insight into Schmidt’s secret retreat in Montana. (Protect public trust)
For example, Lander said he was told he could not speak in an official capacity on behalf of the federal government during the retreat and would have to take a vacation to attend the retreat.
Lander was also told that he was not authorized to share nonpublic information and that any comments he made should include a disclaimer that the views shared did not represent those of the Biden administration.
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“Make sure the organizer of this event knows that you are participating solely in a personal capacity and are not promoting the event in any way that suggests otherwise,” read one of the terms Lander included in his email to Cohen.
“It is important that you inform the organizer not to identify you by your official title or position in any promotional material, or on any website or invitation, except that your official title or position may be used as part of a biography, which also includes at least three additional biographical details about yourself, and which do not make your official title/position more prominent than your other biographical details.”
Lander emails Cohen on June 19, 2021, informing him of his ethical constraints on attending the retreat. (Protect public trust)
Over the next few days, Lander and event organizers discussed in multiple emails how he would be referenced in their retreat package. At one point, Schmidt’s assistant, Topper, informed Lander that the packages were not advertising and “exclusively intended for visitors during Yellowstone Weekend.” Topper has since joined the White House to work for Vice President Kamala Harris.
“He was not approved to attend this event in his official capacity,” a White House spokesperson (OSTP) told Fox News Digital in a statement. “He attended this event in a personal capacity, was not there on behalf of the federal government, and was briefed of his ethical obligations.”
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Meanwhile, Schmidt is a prolific contributor to Democratic Party political campaigns and spearheaded an effort to boost the technological capabilities of Democratic candidates. Schmidt — who has an estimated net worth of more than $24 billion, according to Bloomberg — has sent more than $12 million to Democrats in recent years, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and co-founder of Schmidt Futures, speaks at a conference on September 28, 2022 in New York City. (Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images)
Schmidt also made $227,000 in in-kind contributions to STAC Labs, a tech start-up launched in 2019 that he funded through Schmidt Futures, for his work advancing technology and voter data analytics services on behalf of 18 state Democratic parties, additional elections data showed.
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And Schmidt has quietly developed an intricate network that allows him to exert significant influence over White House artificial intelligence and public policy, Fox News Digital reported last week.
Schmidt served as CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011 and then as chairman of the tech giant until 2015. He then served as the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, until 2018, and as a technical advisor until 2020.
Fox News Digital reporter Aaron Kliegman contributed to this report.
Thomas Catenacci is a political writer for Fox News Digital.