On January 25, a grand jury assembled by the Harris County District Attorney's office in Texas cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing related to the deceptively edited videos of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and instead indicted two CMP members, most notably its founder, David Daleiden. Right-wing media has attempted to distract from Daleiden's indictment by reviving an old -- and since debunked -- claim that a prosecutor in the district attorney's office who had affiliations with Planned Parenthood created a “conflict of interest.”
Grand Jury Clears Planned Parenthood Of Wrongdoing, Instead Indicts Creator Of Smear Videos
Houston Public Media: Center For Medical Progress Founder And Associate Indicted. On January 25, David Daleiden, founder of the anti-choice group the Center for Medical Progress, and associate Sandra Meritt were indicted on felony charges of “Tampering with a Governmental Record.” Daleiden was also indicted for “illegally offer[ing] to purchase human organs” in a video recording he used to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue for profit:
A Harris County grand jury today decided not to take any action against Planned Parenthood in Houston. But two people who used undercover videos accusing the group of selling fetal tissue have been indicted.
The sting videos recorded last April alleged that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from donations of fetal tissue. The Harris County District Attorney's Office investigated those allegations for more than two months, along with the Texas Rangers and the Houston Police Department.
In the end, a grand jury has cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of breaking the law.
Both David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted for Tampering with a Governmental Record, which is a felony. Daleidan was also indicted for Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs, meaning he illegally offered to purchase human organs in the video recording. A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson in a written statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.” [Houston Public Media, 1/25/16]
Assistant Harris County Prosecutor Disclosed She Was On The Board Of Planned Parenthood Last Year -- And Was Pre-emptively Removed From The Case
Houston Chronicle: District Attorney Announced Prosecutor “Will Not Be Involved In Any Manner With This Investigation.” Following the original disclosure of an individual prosecutor's connections to Planned Parenthood, District Attorney Devon Anderson -- a Republican appointee of former Gov. Rick Perry -- spoke to the Houston Chronicle about the measures that would be taken to ensure a quality investigation. Anderson said that prosecutor Lauren Reeder “made the disclosure in order to be transparent” and that she “will not be involved in any manner in this investigation.” Even Republican lawmakers, such as state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, supported the decision, saying that Anderson is “doing the right thing” and that “people are free to choose what their involvements are after work.” From the Houston Chronicle (emphasis added):
In a statement released Friday, Anderson said one of her assistant district attorneys disclosed that she is member of the Gulf Coast agency's board of directors.
"She made the disclosure in order to be transparent," Anderson said in the release.
She added that she remained confident her office could conduct an “unbiased, fact driven investigation” of the allegations.
“She will not be involved in any manner in this investigation,” Anderson said. “If at any time in the future, reliable and credible information is brought to my attention that would question our ability to continue to perform a fair, thorough and independent investigation of this matter due to her board membership, I will revisit the issue of seeking the appointment of an independent prosecutor and act accordingly.”
Lauren Reeder, the prosecutor who joined the DA's office in 2014 and works in the office's criminal family law division, said she notified Anderson to avoid compromising the integrity of the investigation.
Her involvement with Planned Parenthood is not an issue, she said.
“I don't think there's any conflict in my dual roles in two separate organizations,” Reeder said.
After the video was released, Republican lawmakers asked Anderson's office to investigate.
One local Republican said they agreed with Anderson's actions.
“This just shows that what DA is doing is the right thing,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). “She's doing the right thing by starting the investigation and if she has one of her ADA's on [Gulf Coast's] board, then she should obviously insulate that person from any involvement with the ongoing investigation.”
He said he wasn't concerned by Reeder's involvement with Planned Parenthood.
"People are free to choose what their involvements are after work," said Bettencourt. “The only litmus test at work was the value of the work performed.” [Houston Chronicle, 8/8/15]
The Blaze Reported That Harris County DA's Office Has “Approximately 300 Prosecutors And 700 Employees.” When the story originally broke in August, Glenn Beck's conservative website The Blaze covered the Houston Chronicle report and quoted a Harris County spokesperson who noted that not only was the assistant prosecutor uninvolved with the investigation, but she was one of a staff of 1,000. According to The Blaze, “DA's office spokesman Jeff McShan told The Blaze that approximately 300 prosecutors and 700 employees work for the Harris County DA's office.” [The Blaze, 8/11/15]
Right-Wing Media Are Reviving The Resolved “Conflict Of Interest” Charges And Pretending It Is A New Scandal
The Rush Limbaugh Show: District Attorney Wasn't Informed Until “Long After The Grand Jury Process Had Begun.” In the January 26 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Rush Limbaugh capitalized on the indictment to allege misconduct by the Harris County District Attorney's office. Limbaugh said that it “turns out there is a prosecutor in the Harris County DA's office ... and she is on the board of Planned Parenthood.” He falsely continued that District Attorney Devon Anderson was notified only “last week after the grand jury process had begun.” From The Rush Limbaugh Show (emphasis added):
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): And it turns out that there is a prosecutor in the Harris County DA's office named Lauren Reeder -- she's in the criminal family law division -- and she is on the board of Planned Parenthood. And she notified the DA, Devon Anderson, of her role with Planned Parenthood last week, long after the grand jury process had begun. Devon Anderson, the prosecuting attorney in Harris County, Houston, told the Houston Chronicle that Lauren Reeder, prosecutor in her office, had a role at Planned Parenthood, she was told she would not be involved in any manner in the investigation. The DA said if “at any time in the future reliable and credible information is brought to my attention that would question our ability to continue to perform a fair, thorough independent investigation of this matter due to her board membership, then I will revisit the issue of seeking the employment of an independent prosecutor and act accordingly.” [Premiere Radio News, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 1/26/16]
The Laura Ingraham Show: “Board Member Working In Office” Could Color Investigation. Laura Ingraham, host of The Laura Ingraham Show, discussed the indictment with Rep. Diane Black, a member of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which is investing Planned Parenthood and abortion practices. Ingraham said of the prosecutor who was recused from all involvement, “we don't know what role she had in the investigation.” From The Laura Ingraham Show (emphasis added):
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Let's be clear on this again, Devon Anderson, who is the district attorney in Harris County, she did not sit on the board of Planned Parenthood. She was an appointee of Rick Perry. Lauren Reeder, who's an assistant DA, in Harris County in the same office as Devon Anderson, had sat on -- is a member, current member -- of Planned Parenthood's board of directors. And this apparently was only revealed to Devon Anderson last week. So, yeah, excuse me, it was, it was, just to be clear I want to get all these facts straight. This was revealed in August of 2015, not last week. So there was a board member working in the office investigating Planned Parenthood, we don't know at this moment what role she had in the actual investigation itself. I mean, just because she was in the office doesn't mean she was instrumental in this particular case. But we're going to endeavor to find that out. I think it's just one more, clearly it's one more indication that both sides on this are going to dig in deeper. I think the pro-choice people, the pro-abortion-rights people are gonna say this is what they deserve. The Center for Medical Progress and the pro-life people are gonna say, well we're being persecuted. And to me it's very strange to call this a felony, tampering with a government record. I don't even under- -- they haven't released underlying evidence in this case, so we don't know specifically what they are relying on to issue their indictment. But tampering with a government record, I guess this was a fake California driver's license that was used to show their ID when they were at the April meeting in Houston. So that seems like a real stretch. He wasn't, he wasn't using -- he wasn't tampering the ID to board a plane or to buy a gun, right? He tampered with the ID -- I guess if that's what he did -- to do a sting operation, which he did that for his journalistic endeavor. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 1/26/16]
James O'Keefe Tweets “Wait, Are You Serious?” Following Announcement Of Indictment. In a January 26 tweet, conservative and known anti-choice activist James O'Keefe tweeted his reaction to the indictment. He wrote: “wait, are you serious? The prosecutor is on their board? You can not make this up”:
“Pro-Life” District Attorney Condemns “Grand-Jury Shopping” That “Violates The Integrity Of The Whole System”
District Attorney Devon Anderson Responds: Allegations Of Bias “Simply NOT True” And Findings Are Work Of “An Independent Grand Jury.” In a January 27 statement, District Attorney Devon Anderson addressed discredited allegations that Reeder's presence in the district attorney's office created a conflict of interest during the investigation and reminded right-wing critics that she had an obligation to follow the law, regardless of her “pro-life” personal beliefs. “That is simply NOT true,” she admonished, in response to the conflict of interest complaints, "[i]n August, the day after our Lt. Governor asked me to investigate the allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, this prosecutor notified me of her affiliation with this organization" and she was “not involved in any matter of this investigation.” From Houston Public Media (emphasis added):
DEVON ANDERSON: The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn't always lead where you want to go. Anyone who pays attention knows that I'm pro-life.I believe abortion is wrong, but my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law.
I would like to address some of the comments that have been made in the last few days.
First, at a press conference today,the defense attorneys asked me re-present the investigation to another grand jury. I am not going to do that. We have a long standing policy against grand jury shopping. That means when a grand jury comes back with a decision we don't like we don't go and find another one to get the result we want.That violates the integrity of the whole system.The only time we re-present is if new evidence comes to light. Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken and I respect their decision even if it conflicts with my personal beliefs.
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. In August, the day after our Lt. Governor asked me to investigate the allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, this prosecutor notified me of her affiliation with this organization.
We immediately sent out a press release revealing her relationship to the public. At that time I said; 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. She is a fairly new prosecutor who would never be assigned to an investigation of this magnitude anyway. And for the record we have 600 employees, 300 of whom are prosecutors in our office.
As the District Attorney of Harris County, I will never let my personal beliefs conflict with my obligation to follow the laws of our state. In this case, an independent grand jury concluded that laws were broken and indictments followed. The two defendants are represented by counsel and will have their day in court. [Houston Public Media, 1/28/16]
This post has been updated to include DA Anderson's most recent statement