Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson on Thursday responded to the allegations of corruption and cronyism that have swirled around her office in the days since David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist behind the Planned Parenthood smear campaign, was indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges.
The indictment infuriated anti-choice activists, who claimed that the investigation was biased because one of Anderson’s subordinates, prosecutor Lauren Reeder, sits on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s board of directors.
“There is an allegation that one of our prosecutors, who happens to be on the board of Planned Parenthood, was involved in this investigation and the presentation to the grand jury. That is simply not true,” Anderson said in a video statement. “In August, the day after our lieutenant governor asked me to investigate the allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, this prosecutor notified me of her affiliation with this organization.”
Anderson continued: “We immediately sent out a press release revealing her relationship to the public. At that time I said that, ‘In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, I am taking steps to make sure she is not involved in any matter of this investigation.’ And that is what happened.”
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Lauren Reeder is one of 300 prosecutors who work in Harris County, Anderson said.
Anderson said she opposes abortion rights, but didn’t let her politics interfere with the investigation into Daleiden’s attack videos against Planned Parenthood.
“Anyone who pays attention knows that I’m pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong,” she continued. “But my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law.”
The indictment comes after a lengthy investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s fetal tissue donation program. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick requested that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office begin the investigation after the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group led by Daleiden, began publishing videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood in the business of trafficking in “baby parts.”
The fifth video that CMP released showed actors posing as staff from a fake tissue procurement company Daleiden created called BioMax. The actors discussed fetal tissue research with staff at the Houston clinic. An independent investigation showed that the video was substantially manipulated to make it seem as if Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was engaged in wrongdoing, according to the Dallas Observer.
The results of the district attorney’s office investigation cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. The grand jury did not vote on criminal charges against Planned Parenthood—but ultimately indicted David Daleiden, according to Planned Parenthood attorney Josh Schaffer, as reported by the Associated Press.
Daleiden and his associate, Sandra Merritt, a 62-year-old woman from San Jose, California, were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record for presenting fake California drivers licenses when they visited the Houston clinic. Daleiden was additionally charged with a misdemeanor for violating Texas’ law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs, the same law Daleiden accused Planned Parenthood of violating.
This isn’t the first time that Devon Anderson has drawn the ire of anti-choice activists. In 2013, she oversaw a grand jury investigation of Douglas Karpen, an abortion provider who was accused of performing illegal later abortions. That grand jury declined to indict Dr. Karpen.
Behind those allegations was Operation Rescue, the radical anti-choice group founded by Troy Newman. Troy Newman is also a founding member of CMP. (Newman recently severed ties with the organization, although he remains a party to several lawsuits related to the video sting operation, including two pending in California federal court alleging a criminal conspiracy and racketeering.)
Anderson flatly denied any impropriety in connection with her office’s investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices.
“The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn’t always lead where you want to go,” Anderson said.