EXCLUSIVE: Eric Schmidt, the billionaire former Google CEO and longtime Democratic donor, flew President Biden’s former top science adviser Eric Lander to a ritzy retreat in Montana during his tenure at the White House, emails reviewed by Fox News Digital reveal.
The internal White House emails — obtained by government watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) and shared exclusively with Fox News Digital — show that, in July 2021, Lander, his wife Lori and his daughter Jessica flew on a private jet managed by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic venture Schmidt founded in 2017, to the private Yellowstone Weekend summit hosted every year by Schmidt in Montana.
A spokesperson for Lander told Fox News Digital that the former official reimbursed Schmidt Futures for his travel expenses and that the White House counsel’s office approved the trip. However, PPT Director Michael Chamberlain expressed concern about Lander’s decision to go on the trip.
‘Inappropriately taking private or charter flights for travel has been the undoing of more than one high-ranking official in the Executive Branch,’ Chamberlain told Fox News Digital. ‘The personnel and resources that have flowed into OSTP from a handful of wealthy, powerful individuals and organizations should give the American public pause to consider whether the factors driving that generosity may not be altogether altruistic.’
‘The Biden administration has made a very public commitment to putting science above politics and has talked a lot about adherence to its scientific integrity policies,’ Chamberlain continued. ‘The public remains skeptical, and this incident does nothing to quell that skepticism.’
At the time of the trip, Lander served as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), giving him a lead role crafting policy in the Biden administration. He eventually resigned from the position last year after allegations of treating staff in a ‘disrespectful and demeaning way.’
In an email dated July 11, 2021, Schmidt Futures office assistant Adam Topper 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 affairs at Goldman Sachs, with the Yellowstone Weekend itinerary and travel arrangements.
According to the email, Lander, his wife and his daughter traveled on a ‘Schmidt Futures Charter’ from Washington, D.C., to Montana on July 15, 2021, and back days later. Schmidt and Cohen also provided accommodations for Lander and his family near the exclusive Yellowstone Club, the sprawling members-only ski and golf resort in Big Sky, Montana, where Yellowstone Weekend is held every summer.
‘On behalf of your hosts, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, we are so looking forward to welcoming you next week to the 10th Annual Yellowstone Weekend!’ Topper wrote to Lander in the July 2021 email days before the trip.
In addition to listing his flight and accomodation details, the email noted the Landers would be housed with fellow Yellowstone Weekend attendees 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 the summit included various ‘sessions,’ receptions and activities.
‘Dr. Lander received approval from the White House counsel’s office for this travel and reimbursed all applicable expenses,’ the spokesperson for Lander told Fox News Digital in a statement.
A source close to the conference confirmed Lander requested an invoice for the trip in August 2021 and that his payment has since been received.
According to a 2020 report from the non-profit Tech Transparency Project, little is known about Schmidt’s secretive retreat except that it routinely attracts high-profile politicians, policy analysts, celebrities and executives. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., musicians Lady Gaga and Leon Bridges, actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, journalist Ronan Farrow, and various D.C. insiders are all counted among the known past attendees.
The White House emails reviewed by Fox News Digital additionally showed that, one month prior to the retreat, Lander exchanged multiple emails with Cohen and Topper about the ethics implications of attending the event. The communications, though, didn’t 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 talked to White House legal advisers who informed him of a series of conditions for the trip which he listed.
For example, Lander said he was advised he couldn’t speak in an official capacity on behalf of the federal government at the retreat and that he would have to take vacation time to attend the retreat.
Lander was also advised that he wasn’t authorized to share non-public information and that any remarks he delivered should have a disclaimer that the views shared didn’t represent those of the Biden administration.
‘Please ensure that the organizer of this event is aware that you are participating solely in your personal capacity and does not advertise the event in a way that suggests otherwise,’ one of the conditions Lander included in his email to Cohen stated.
‘Importantly, please inform the organizer not to identify you by your official title or position in any promotional materials, or on any website or invitation, except that your official title or position can be used as part of a bio, which also contains at least three additional biographical details about yourself, and which does not give any greater prominence to your official title/position over your other biographical details.’
Over the next days, Lander and event organizers discussed in multiple emails how he would be referred to in their retreat packet. At one point, Topper, Schmidt’s assistant, informed Lander the packets were not promotional and ‘exclusively for attendees to use while they are at the 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 OSTP spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement. ‘He attended this event in his personal capacity, was not there on behalf of the federal government, and was advised about his ethics obligations.’
Meanwhile, Schmidt is a prolific contributor to Democratic Party political campaigns and spearheaded an effort to boost Democratic candidates’ technological capabilities. Schmidt — who has an estimated net worth north of $24 billion, according to Bloomberg — has sent more than $12 million to Democrats in recent years, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Schmidt also wired $227,000 in in-kind contributions to STAC Labs, a tech start-up launched in 2019, which he has bankrolled through Schmidt Futures, for its work boosting tech and voter data analysis services on behalf of 18 state Democratic parties, additional election data showed.
And Schmidt has quietly developed an intricate network enabling him to have significant influence over White House artificial intelligence and public policy, Fox News Digital reported last week.
Schmidt worked as Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011 and then as the tech giant’s chairman until 2015. He subsequently worked as the executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, until 2018, and as its technical adviser until 2020.
Fox News Digital reporter Aaron Kliegman contributed to this report.