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Republicans Base Fetal Tissue Probe on Allegedly Falsified Exhibits

Christine Grimaldi

Robert Raben, who once served as counsel to House Judiciary Committee, told lawmakers that the “volume of inaccurate and deceptive information thrown about” would give most prosecutors pause.

Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives panel targeting fetal tissue research based their latest probe into tissue “pricing” on documentation that Democrats repeatedly called into question during a hearing Wednesday.

As the hearing started, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-OH) interrupted Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) with objections to the GOP-compiled exhibits. “Some of them were created wholesale by Republican staff,” DeGette said. “There was no explanation of the underlying factual foundation for those materials, the methodology that was used in coming up with these charts or some of the graphs that we had, and frankly, I believe them to be misleading.”

Other documents were attributed to a “procurement business,” which DeGette said were irrelevant to the hearing. “They don’t distinguish between the various services of the company, which provides a variety of different specimens, including adult blood and bone marrow for use in biomedical research,” she said.

DeGette said that StemExpress, the California-based company believed to be the focus of the exhibits, on Tuesday submitted a letter to Republicans, with a copy to Democrats, about the “serious, serious problems with these so-called exhibits.” Anti-choice activist David Daleiden’s widely discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos, which alleged that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue, featured StemExpress employees.

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A Texas grand jury charged Daleiden with a felony for allegedly tampering with a governmental record; he is also the subject of a California state investigation.

Republican legislators coordinated with CMP officials when the first surreptitiously recorded videos attacking Planned Parenthood were released.

In the letter to lawmakers, StemExpress alleged that Daleiden may have provided Republicans with unlawfully obtained materials, and created others for their exhibits, DeGette said. StemExpress asked that Republicans withdraw the documents pending a review of the House’s general counsel, she said.

Blackburn dismissed DeGette’s concerns.

“The documents have all been obtained through our regular investigatory work,” Blackburn said. “We have had things that come to us from whistleblowers, from subpoenas, from former employees, citizens that have filed FOIA request[s], the panel’s whistleblower portal, as I said, and also, an internet search archive search engine.” Blackburn said that Republican staff created some of the exhibits DeGette ticked through but added that they were based on materials submitted to the panel.

DeGette’s motion to dismiss the exhibits failed in a party-line vote.

U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) made brief remarks before the panel. Shaheen took issue with the panel’s “political motivations” and called for the investigation to end, while Sasse based his support for the investigation on the “video footage of abortion clinic doctors and others discussing the sale of baby body parts for profit.”

Sasse’s rhetoric foreshadowed the rest of the hearing, as Republicans on the panel and their four other witnesses routinely made reference to “baby body parts” in their opening statements, questions, and testimonies.

GOP witness Brian Lennon, a partner in the Michigan-based Warner Norcross & Judd and a former federal prosecutor, touted his objectivity as he alleged the existence of “probable cause” that abortion clinics and the “procurement business” violated federal law. Lennon said he did not have any clients involved in the abortion battle, but he does have another high-profile client, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is embroiled in the Flint water crisis.

Robert Raben, a Democratic witness who once served as counsel to House Judiciary Committee, told the panel that the “volume of inaccurate and deceptive information thrown about” would give most prosecutors pause.

As of January, GOP officials in 12 states have concluded investigations into claims that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from fetal tissue donation, and each one has cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.

Fay Clayton, the other Democratic witness and an attorney with Robinson Curley & Clayton, P.C., drew on her experience more than 15 years ago representing a nonprofit corporation that provided donated tissue to medical researchers. The nonprofit became the target of prominent anti-choice group Life Dynamics, which receives the majority of its funding from the fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks, the main backers of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) presidential campaign.

Providers told Rewire in March that a Life Dynamics document has been used to deceive and intimidate both patients and providers by threatening legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing abortion care.

Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked Clayton what should be done about the discredited videos.

“First thing you do, get Mr. Daleiden under oath,” Clayton said.

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