Clinton Foundation officials gave PolitiFact a doctored version of a 2008 memo lauding its HIV/AIDS program presumably to defend against congressional charges that the charity distributed “watered down” drugs to poor patients on the African continent, according to new information acquired by The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group.
The altered memo went to PolitiFact Sept. 21, three days after TheDCNF published a story titled, “Clinton Foundation AIDS Program Distributed ‘Watered-Down’ Drugs To Third World Countries.” (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Clinton Foundation AIDS Program Distributed ‘Watered-Down’ Drugs To Third World Countries)
The substandard drugs lead back to Ranbaxy, a generic Indian pharmaceutical company. The Clinton Foundation distributed the drugs via its Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), all without telling recipients about the medication’s problems. The AIDS drug program has long been the centerpiece of the Clinton Foundation’s public reputation.
Two days after receiving the altered memo from the Clinton Foundation, PolitiFact published a critique that concluded TheDCNF’s story was “false.” PolitiFact’s critique relied heavily on the altered document, saying the Clinton Foundation “warned sub-Saharan governments and others in its buyer network to take extra steps to confirm the quality of Ranbaxy’s products.”
Changes to the memo’s title were among multiple alterations identified by eSleuth, a Seattle-based computer forensic company that conducted an independent forensic examination of the altered Clinton Foundation memo at the request of TheDCNF.
“Apparently, the original title was ‘Ranbaxy Talking Points,'” eSleuth head Gordon Mitchell told TheDCNF, adding that it was changed Sept. 21, 2016, to read “Overview: FDA Warnings to Ranbaxy.”
The forensic review concluded that neither the Clinton Foundation nor CHAI ever posted the document on the Internet prior to TheDCNF’s story, contrary to PolitiFact’s suggestion that the memo was produced as a public document.
“Internet searches with 3 different search engines do not locate the file ‘Ranbaxy memo_RR_27Sep08.pdf’ nor have relevant hits on samples of the contents of this file,” the forensic company said.
“The internal date shows that it was modified on September 21, 2016,” eSleuth told TheDCNF.
TheDCNF’s story was based on a congressional report produced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican and vice-chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“The possible altering of documents by the Clinton Foundation to defend itself against a congressional report is deeply troubling,” Blackburn told TheDCNF. “My month’s-long investigation determined that the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with Ranbaxy very likely facilitated the distribution of watered down HIV/AIDS medications to patients in sub-Saharan Africa with taxpayer money.”
Blackburn added: “These drugs actually increased the risk of death for patients who used them. The people of Africa and hard-working American taxpayers deserve answers.”
Ranbaxy received “warning letters” by 2008 from the both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) about poor quality standards for its entire generic drug line, including its HIV drugs.
The memo was never intended to be a public statement, according to a former CHAI employee who requested anonymity and spoke with TheDCNF. The former employee is not a detractor of CHAI and defended its performance on AIDS.
“I know at the time the document was meant to assist Clinton Foundation staff in responding to queries by government partners” about the FDA and WHO warnings, the former CHAI employee said. “At the time we were working with many nonprofits on the ground, partners in-country, and they were understandably concerned about what was happening with Ranbaxy. The foundation was doing really good work at the time.”
The use of the doctored document isn’t likely to bolster PolitiFact’s self-proclaimed role as a thorough “fact checking” news organization.
PolitiFact, which is part of the Tampa Bay Times, describes itself as “a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics.” The organization publishes three “fact checking” websites: PolitiFact, PunditFact and its Truth-O-Meter.
The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists urges all reporters to “verify information before releasing it.”
Steps were taken to verify the authenticity of the Clinton Foundation document, Aaron Sharockman, executive director of PolitiFact, told TheDCNF.
He said the memo “was provided to us by the Clinton Foundation in response to our questions,” adding that PolitiFact “verified its authenticity through emails sent and received at that time.”
The forensic study of the Clinton document confirmed that the memo was altered after TheDCNF story was published.
In related developments, PolitiFact did not disclose in its critique of TheDCNF’s story a highly relevant conflict of interest. TheDCNF reported Sept.27. Pierre Omidyar, a billionaire and a close friend of former President Clinton gave $225,000 for PolitiFact’s “global health” reporting, including its review of TheDCNF story exploring the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS program. Omidyar’s wife Pamela donated $1 million to the Clinton Foundation for its HIV/AIDS work in Sub-Saharan Africa.
PolitiFact’s critique of TheDCNF article contained seven “flagrant” errors of fact, TheDCNF reported Oct. 2.
TheDCNF asked the Clinton Foundation for comment. The foundation refused to comment, directing TheDCNF to contact the Clinton Health Access Initiative. TheDCNF did so and received no comment.
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