The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) could move toward a baseless criminal investigation of Planned Parenthood with the help of a powerful U.S. Senate committee.
DOJ has requested the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unredacted records that went into a 547-page GOP staff report repeating discredited claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. The nation’s top law enforcement agency promised a “thorough and comprehensive assessment of the report” in identical letters, obtained by Rewire, to Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“At this point, the records are intended for investigative use only—we understand that a resolution from the Senate may be required if the Department were to use any of the unredacted materials in a formal legal proceeding, such as a grand jury,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to the lawmakers.
The letters do not mention Planned Parenthood by name. Nor do they announce the start of a formal investigation. Instead, the letters corroborate suspicions that Planned Parenthood is on DOJ’s radar under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vociferous opponent of reproductive rights.
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Grassley in 2016 directed his staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee, now known for rubber stamping President Trump’s far-right judicial nominees, to investigate allegations stemming from a 2015 Center for Medical Progress (CMP) smear campaign coordinated with GOP lawmakers. Three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury have disproved the allegations put forward in heavily edited videos from CMP, an anti-choice front group. A separate House GOP “witch hunt” in the form of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives appeared to work closely with CMP and concluded in January with a report that echoed the group’s debunked propaganda videos.
Grassley’s staff report failed to provide any substantiating evidence yet asked DOJ to prosecute the targeted Planned Parenthood affiliates and tissue procurement companies. Grassley in 2017 resurrected his request and called on Sessions to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Trent Franks recently followed suit, though the Arizona Republican tendered his resignation on Thursday following the sexual harassment revelation that he had asked female staffers to bear his child via surrogacy. As Rewire reported in November, Franks followed up on a Hill newspaper report that relied on no-attribution “sources” claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigations had asked the Senate for unredacted documents obtained from abortion care providers. Rewire subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI, but the agency claimed to find no “records responsive to your request.” The letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee came from DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs and were dated December 7.
David Daleiden, the CMP leader under indictment in California, and other anti-choice figures with ties to violent rhetoric, circulated the Hill story at the time and celebrated the latest development.
DOJ could end up combing through thousands of pages of documents. Planned Parenthood, by its own count, provided the various congressional investigations with nearly 30,000 pages and nine interviews with staff.
Parent organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) countered the news with the same statement from November.
“Planned Parenthood has never, and would never, profit while facilitating its patients’ choice to donate fetal tissue for use in important medical research,” PPFA Vice President of Government Affairs Dana Singiser said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood strongly disagrees with the recommendations of the Senate Republican staff to refer this matter to the Justice Department.”