Clinton Campaign Considered Targeting FDA's Califf

  • by: Robert Goldberg |
  • 10/21/2016
The Wikileaks disclosure of John Podesta's emails reveals that the Clinton campaign considered attacking FDA Commissioner Robert Califf for ties to drug companies as part of a broader effort to divert attention from Secretary Clinton's email scandal.

FDA Commissioner and Clinton Campaign Target Robert Califf, MD

It start with an email from long-time Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald to Clinton policy adviser Ann O Leary.  The email contains a link to a NY Times article on acting FDA Commissioner Rob Califf who had been nominated by President Obama to become the full time commish.  

On Sep 21, 2015, at 10:33 PM, Mandy Grunwald sent an email to Clintion policy advierse Jake Sullivan and Ann O'Leary,  Joel Benenson a strategist and pollster for the presidential campaign., press secretary Brian Fallon and Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri and asks: Do we want to weigh in on this?

Jake Sullivan responds:   What do you think?

On Mon, Sep 21, 2015 Mandy Grunwald replies: I don't know anything about the guy. If we weren't hitting the Administration with Keystone this week, I might be tempted, but I think that probably makes it a bad idea. Lets keep an eye on it and see about those Pharma ties. 

Then Anne O Leary:  Interesting. I'll do some asking around to see what folks in the public health world think.

On Sat, Sep 26, 2015 at 12:53 PM, Brian Fallon :  Any update on this? As we consider fights that fit into the larger themes we are trying to promote, this seems like a good fight to have. Plus, the VP would be in a box of having to support this nominee.

On Sat, Sep 26, 2015 at 12:59 PM, Jake Sullivan wrote: This is ultimately a political call, not a policy call. I don't really like the idea of bashing this White House's nominees, knowing their vetting process and standards.  But if you guys want to do it, I cannot identify a policy reason not to -- you all know the facts. Ann, any other intel?

On September 26, 2015 at 1:13 pm  Anne O'Leary wrote:

Califf the Obama nominee does have real ties to the drug industry - Chris Jennings is calling a few people for me to learn more so we don't tip our hand directly. We are clean on Clinton Admin FDA Commissioner - it was David Kessler, an academic who had run a teaching hospital - and best known for taking on big tobacco. We could certainly signal that we want someone willing to stand up to Pharma (in the same way Kessler stood up to Tobacco). BUT - I want to do a little more digging and due diligence before we hit this guy. Having been through a nomination fight with my husband (in which he lost), this is personal and messy and horrible on the person nominated and their families - so I don't take attacking this guy lightly. Do you want to do it on Meet the Press? 

That was follwed by an email from Podesta on Sep 26, 2015, at 2:27 PM,  who wrote: " I think we will pay a huge price with the WH on this one. Worries me."

Nothing transpired.   But the back and forth about whether to trash Califf came down to politics, not policy differences.  And it had NOTHING to do with Califf as a person, a physician, a researcher and public servant.  It was clear that Team Clinton was interested only in dirt that was newsworthy.  It was simply a matter of whether attacking Califf on Meet The Press would be worth the headache of taking on an Obama nominee.   How lovely. 

Rob Califf should remain FDA commissioner regardless of who is elected president because of his qualifications and commitment to accelerating access to safe and effective medicines.   I am concerned that the Clinton team -- which exults about going to war against Pharma -- will seek to replace Dr. Califf.  That will trigger a prolonged political war that will undermine the FDA.    

The emails reveal a Team Clinton eager to find ways to smash up people for short term political gain without tipping their hand that they are behind the hit job.   Like it's war on pharma, it has less to do with policies and more to do about the benefits of creating and attacking enemies. 


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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