Anti-choice activists with close ties to the Trump administration are pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Planned Parenthood over discredited allegations of illegal activity.
The May 30 letter to Sessions’ U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigations Acting Director Andrew McCabe suggests the activists are continuing to coordinate with officials at the highest levels of the federal government until DOJ has no choice but to investigate false claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. They based their plea on “investigative journalist” David Daleiden’s discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) propaganda videos, underscoring their close working relationship with the anti-choice front group leader facing 15 felony charges.
Daleiden coordinated the smear campaign against Planned Parenthood with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
“You’d have to be the biggest simpleton on Earth to look at this and say ‘Oh, gee, this all just happens to be happening at the same time,’” Erin Matson, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, an organization that tracks the anti-choice movement and works to increase abortion access, said in an interview.
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Matson noted that Daleiden relied on some of the letter’s signatories, including Susan B. Anthony List President Majorie Dannenfelser and March for Life Education and Defense Fund President Jeanne Mancini, along with other “mainstream pro-life organizations,” to roll out another video last week that almost certainly violates a court order. CMP omitted the video from its website, Matson said. The video appeared on CMP’s Youtube channel as unlisted, she continued, meaning only those who knew the link could view it—and promote it.
“I think it’s really interesting to see how the mainstream movement is really carrying David Daleiden’s water for him,” she said. “It’s outrageous in the letter that they’re calling him an investigative journalist.”
Three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury found no basis to CMP’s allegations.
The 17 signatories on the letter read like a who’s who of the anti-choice movement and includes the leaders of Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, and the Family Research Council, which has been classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dannenfelser and other anti-choice leaders worked with President Trump and his senior advisors on the nomination of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, per White House pool reports. And she flanked Trump as he delivered the final blow to federal safeguards for Title X family planning funding.
The letter marks the latest calls for a DOJ investigation. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in April again asked DOJ officials to prosecute Planned Parenthood, based on his 547-page report from last year that contrary to his claims, failed to provide concrete evidence that the organization’s affiliates broke the law.
Grassley and his majority staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee began the report with a disclaimer, attempting to distance themselves from CMP’s deceptively edited videos even as they described the videos as an “impetus” for the investigation. Their caveat appeared to be an attempt to avoid the rebukes that 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. Rewire analyzed what appeared to be a close working relationship between Blackburn and Daleiden.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus and a former member of the select panel, slammed the revival of what she called a “waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”
“This illegitimate prop of a document is being used to further the witch hunt in another form,” she told Rewire. “This [is] part of a growing and disturbing trend of ideological interference with biomedical science that threatens development of new treatments and cures.”
Melissa Fowler, a spokesperson for the National Abortion Federation, expressed concern that Sessions will buy into the anti-choice strategy that he appeared to foment as a U.S. senator. Following the release of the CMP videos in July 2015, Sessions and other GOP senators urged then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and then-Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to investigate Planned Parenthood.
“We knew when Sessions was confirmed that anti-abortion groups would see it as an opportunity to target abortion providers,” Fowler told Rewire, noting that these groups endorsed his nomination and “were vocal about how they had worked with him in the past and hoped to work with him to investigate providers once he was confirmed.”
Matson feared that Sessions would not enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which makes it a federal crime to use force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to prevent people from obtaining or providing reproductive health-care services. Sessions dodged questions about the FACE Act at his Senate confirmation hearing.
“They’re asking someone who’s charged with protecting abortion providers from terrorism to continue a public smear campaign that promotes anti-choice terrorism,” Matson said.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify that the Center for Medical Progress’s most recent video was posted to the organization’s Youtube channel, not on its website.