On Monday, the work of an anti-choice group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) backfired badly when its attempt to launch criminal proceedings against Planned Parenthood ended up with its leader, David Daleiden, along with a fellow activist getting indicted by a Texas grand jury, which in turn cleared Planned Parenthood of alleged wrongdoings.
A small number of Planned Parenthood clinics — "just 1% [of clinics] are involved with fetal tissue research," according to Planned Parenthood — donate fetal tissue for research that many scientists have credited with important breakthroughs in vaccines and other medical treatments.
CMP activists, posing as representatives of a biomedical company, claimed that they recorded Planned Parenthood officials admitting to making a profit off those donations, a criminal act. However, there is no evidence any official from the organization made such a statement, although they did mention fees covering the costs of storage and transportation.
CMP's videos, as it turned out, were manipulated to make it seem that the officials wanted to make money. FactCheck.org explained that "the full, unedited video they cite as evidence shows a Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly saying its clinics want to cover their costs, not make money, when donating fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research." Planned Parenthood has since stated that it will no longer accept such reimbursements at all.
Despite the flimsy evidence presented in CMP’s videos, Republican politicians in Congress and throughout the country seized on Daleiden’s claims and launched investigations into Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donation practices. Not a single investigation that has been completed so far has founded any evidence of wrongdoings. Texas was one of several states where politicians called for investigations into Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program.
Which brings us back to the indictments.
The New York Times notes that the case in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, "started in August, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican and an outspoken opponent of abortion and Planned Parenthood, asked [Republican district attorney Devon] Anderson to open a criminal investigation into the organization."
In the end, the grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood but indicted CMP founder David Daleiden and his colleague Sandra Merritt on felony charges of tampering with government records. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to purchase human organs.
While the indictments further discredit CMP's work, abortion-rights opponents are relishing the opportunity to portray Daleiden as a martyr and hero of the cause. As Miranda pointed out yesterday, "arrest and jail time for violation of what they see as unjust laws is a badge of honor" for many in the anti-choice movement. And as expected, Daleiden’s supporters on the Right are using the indictments as an opening to spread even more misinformation.
1) Daleiden Is A Journalist
Following news of the indictments, Daleiden called himself an "investigative journalist," tweeting that Planned Parenthood's local affiliate is "trying to jail investigative journalism." (Never mind that it was actually an anti-Planned Parenthood politician who launched the probe that ensnared him).
Thank you everyone for all the support! Something smells rotten in TX: it's @PPGulfCoast trying to jail investigative journalism.— David Daleiden (@daviddaleiden) January 27, 2016
Sorry, but Daleiden isn't exactly aiming for a Pulitzer.
For starters, CMP did not originally describe itself as a journalistic outlet. It was only around the time the group started releasing its videos that it updated its website's “About Us” page to say that it was comprised of "citizen journalists."
Daleiden himself served as a staffer for the anti-abortion group Live Action, which has its own history of launching sham investigations of Planned Parenthood, and said he wanted CMP to emulate a similar 1999 anti-Planned Parenthood sting by the anti-choice organization Life Dynamics. That scheme fell apart because Life Dynamics paid a witness for their testimony.
Troy Newman, a CMP board member, is a longtime anti-abortion activist with the group Operation Rescue. He told fellow activists that when Daleiden approached him about the project, the goal wasn't to follow the facts where they lead, as journalists do, but to put Planned Parenthood officials behind bars and "destroy" the group. In fact, Newman said that CMP's venture would be a failure if it only succeeded in drawing the attention of members of the press and did not lead to prosecutions of Planned Parenthood officials.
Newman told a church audience in September: "We said, ‘Look, if we just get on Fox News’ — and we were on Fox News, we were on there a couple weeks ago — ‘if we just got a bunch of YouTube video hits or something, if, you know, people are talking about — we would consider it a failure.’ The first and foremost thing is we wanted prosecutions. We want prosecutions, want to defund them, and, finally, we want to completely destroy the entity called Planned Parenthood. And we’re well on our way."
Cheryl Sullenger, Newman's deputy at Operation Rescue who co-authored a book with him that called for abortion doctors to face the death penalty and was once convicted for involvement in a plot to bomb an abortion clinic, similarly revealed how Daleiden approached Newman about how best to go about "obtaining criminal prosecutions" against Planned Parenthood officials and ultimately "put an end to the abortion industry in America.":
About three years ago, David Daleiden came here to Wichita and actually visited us in our office, and he had discussions with Troy about his visions for this undercover project. … David was really motivated to conduct a long-term investigative study of Planned Parenthood and their practices regarding the buying and selling of aborted baby remains. And the reason that he came to us was because he shared our vision for obtaining criminal prosecutions and really doing something substantial to report these abuses, document and report them, and bring an end to not only these practices, but an end to the abortion industry in America. And he knew if he focused on Planned Parenthood that would be probably the most powerful way to do that.
Daleiden is not an “investigative journalist.” He is an anti-abortion activist who is now trying to pose as a journalist.
This detail is particularly important because the grand jury's felony indictment stemmed from the contention that Daleiden and his colleague used fake IDs with an "intent to cause harm."
2) Indictment Proves Planned Parenthood Was Selling Human Tissue
Anti-choice activists have jumped on the misdemeanor charge that Daleiden faces for attempting to purchase human organs, saying that the charge in turn proves that Planned Parenthood was selling organs.
The Resurgent, a right-wing blog, called the charge a "gift" to the anti-choice movement because it "proves" that Planned Parenthood was selling tissue all along.
This is a big distortion of the case.
Daleiden did send Planned Parenthood an email asking to purchase fetal tissue for $1,600.
However, Planned Parenthood never responded to his offer ... because Planned Parenthood doesn't sell fetal tissue.
"Whether Daleiden actually intended to buy tissue doesn’t matter in the eyes of Texas law," the Washington Post points out. "The inquiry alone could have spurred the misdemeanor charge. Authorities don’t need to see evidence of a deal or interest from another party to pursue the charge."
To say that Planned Parenthood is guilty of breaking the law simply because Daleiden asked them to break the law, without success, may be one of the most absurd claims that has emerged following the indictments.
Anti-choice groups used similar logic when Planned Parenthood announced that it would cease collecting legal reimbursements for fetal tissue, claiming that the move somehow proved that Planned Parenthood was collecting illegal reimbursements all along.
3) Planned Parenthood-Linked Attorney 'Tainted' The Investigation
Surprised by the indictments and still unable to prove that Planned Parenthood committed any wrongdoings, now anti-choice activists are contending that the district attorney's office that brought the grand jury investigation must be at fault. After all, the grand jury didn't accept the movement's narrative that, as Ted Cruz put it, Planned Parenthood "confesses to multiple felonies."
The conservative outlet the Federalist thought it found quite the scoop when it reported that one of the prosecutors working in the district attorney's office was a local Planned Parenthood board member, posting an image of her LinkedIn page as damning evidence of misconduct.
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the conservative legal group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, said that the case may been "tainted" by this alleged "conflict of interest."
Except that the assistant district attorney in question had nothing to do with the investigation, and she personally revealed her connection to the organization at the very beginning of the inquiry. No LinkedIn screenshot was needed, as a simple Google search would do.
When the Houston case started in August, the attorney who serves on a local Planned Parenthood board disclosed the connection herself and the district attorney announced that she would “not be involved in any manner in this investigation." At the time, one Texas Republican lawmaker praised the decision to "insulate that person from any involvement with the ongoing investigation."
Even the Blaze, the conservative website launched by Glenn Beck, reported on the non-issue back in August, noting that "office spokesman Jeff McShan told TheBlaze that approximately 300 prosecutors and 700 employees work for the Harris County DA’s office."
The smoking gun that may have "tainted" the investigation was actually disclosed from the get-go, and the attorney, one of around 300 in the office, had no involvement in the proceedings.
But none of these misleading and blatantly false claims should surprise anyone.
The CMP probe was always a sham, but that didn’t stop Republican politicians and conservative media pundits from running with the group's discredited "findings." Some, such as Carly Fiorina, even added a few of their own false claims to boot.
Since they appear to be immune to facts, including the outcomes of the many investigations from both government bodies and actual journalists that have already cleared Planned Parenthood, it is no wonder that CMP's defenders are twisting the truth now that it turns out that Daleiden and his CMP colleague, rather than Planned Parenthood officials, are facing indictments.