A prominent Republican in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday referred several Planned Parenthood affiliates and tissue procurement companies to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal investigation.
In doing so, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threw the weight of the powerful committee behind widely discredited claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.
“I don’t take lightly making a criminal referral,” Grassley said in a press release accompanying his calls to investigate four Planned Parenthood affiliates and three private companies that help procure tissue donation for medical research. One of the companies is StemExpress, the subject of a stalled, Republican-led “McCarthyesque” effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to hold the tissue procurement company in contempt of Congress.
Grassley sent the referral to the DOJ before President-elect Trump takes office in January and ushers in a new administration likely to be sympathetic to anti-choice causes. The radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who will head the DOJ pending Senate confirmation.
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The Justice Department’s press office did not immediately answer an inquiry about whether the agency plans to respond to Grassley before the Obama administration departs.
The 547-page majority staff report put out by Grassley and his staff begins with a disclaimer, attempting to distance themselves from the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptively edited videos even as they describe the videos as an “impetus” to the investigation. The report says that its “analyses and findings do not rely on the CMP videos … Accordingly, criticism of the CMP videos or of the techniques CMP used to create them are generally irrelevant to this report.”
The disclaimer appeared to be an attempt to avoid the rebukes that have followed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her so-called House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives for relying on factually inaccurate anti-choice media. In June, Rewire analyzed what appeared to be a close working relationship between Blackburn and David Daleiden, the architect of the heavily edited CMP video campaign.
Blackburn is supposed to issue a report marking the end of the panel’s work but has yet to do so, even though lawmakers have already left Washington.
Senate Judiciary Republicans did not work with Blackburn and her staff, Grassley Spokesperson Beth Levine said.
“This has been a Judiciary Committee staff investigation,” she told Rewire in a phone interview.
Despite the disclaimer, the report echoes allegations disproven by three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury.
Although Senate Judiciary Republicans had proceeded quietly until the release of the referral and report, Levine denied that their investigation occurred surreptitiously.
“It’s certainly been something that the committee staff has focused on,” she said. “The Senate does things differently [than the House]. This was regular committee staff doing the oversight work instead of doing some special select committee.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, slammed the Grassley-led GOP investigation.
“To be clear, the Republican Staff Report issued today has never been voted on or adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee as an official report,” he said in a statement.
“It is important to understand these wasteful and ideological inquiries for what they are: a relentless partisan effort to attack and defund a women’s health provider that millions of women across this country depend on each year for basic medical services,” Leahy said.
Levine, Grassley’s spokesperson, said Judiciary Committee Republicans’ work to date is not a harbinger of continued investigations or public hearings in the 115th Congress, beginning in January. Grassley’s referral says “about as much as needs to be said about where he is on it,” she told Rewire, adding that he plans to turn his attention to Trump administration nomination hearings—including hearings for Sessions, scheduled to begin January 10, and for a potential U.S. Supreme Court pick.