Media Highlight The “Misleading” Evidence Used During Congressional Panel’s Attack On Planned Parenthood

Media Highlight The “Misleading” Evidence Used During Congressional Panel’s Attack On Planned Parenthood

Second Select Panel Hearing Was Just Like “A Bad House Of Cards Plotline”

››› ››› SHARON KANN

Following the Congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ second hearing, multiple media outlets heavily criticized the Republican members’ continued lack of objectivity. The select panel was established by Republicans in October 2015 based on discredited allegations against Planned Parenthood from the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Despite claiming to be “impartial,” Republican members during both hearings have relied on CMP’s deceptive work as evidence.

House Republicans Form Select Committee To Investigate Fetal Tissue Donation After CMP Releases Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood

House Republicans Create "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives" Following Release Of Deceptively Edited Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood. In October 2015, House Republicans voted to create a special committee to investigate abortion service providers and fetal tissue donation. The vote followed the release of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which targeted Planned Parenthood officials and fetal tissue procurement companies. The committee was later named the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. [Huffington Post, 10/7/15]

Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives Held Second Hearing On “The Pricing Of Fetal Tissue”

Politico: Second Hearing Focused On “Accounting, Marketing, And Other Business Documents” To Allege Wrongdoing By Abortion Providers And Procurement Companies. The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives held its second hearing on April 20. According to a pre-hearing piece published by Politico, panel Republicans intended to present a report of “accounting, marketing, and other business documents that they say indicate[s]” that providers and procurement companies profited from fetal tissue donation. Democrats on the panel have increasingly voiced doubts about the veracity and sourcing of these documents, warning that they have “led to ‘inaccurate and misleading’ conclusions.” Politico quoted a Democratic committee memo that said, “In reality, the documents themselves are not evidence of unlawful conduct,” even though “Republicans will claim -- and invite their witnesses to agree -- that these documents indicate possible misconduct”:

At a hearing Wednesday, Republicans plan to present a report containing accounting, marketing and other business documents that they say indicate the unnamed procurement company and abortion clinic likely made a profit off the handling of fetal tissue.

[...]

No congressional committee or law enforcement office has concluded there is evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood or the fetal tissue handlers. Daleiden, however, was charged with using false government documents and trying to buy fetal tissue — allegations that he denies.

Democrats on the committee say the documents, some of which lack sourcing information, have led to "inaccurate and misleading" conclusions.

"Nevertheless, we anticipate that the Republicans will claim — and invite their witnesses to agree — that these documents indicate possible criminal misconduct that warrants this Panel’s and the Justice Department’s investigation," the Democratic committee staff wrote in a memo to members. "In reality, the documents themselves are not evidence of unlawful conduct as any dollar amounts that they contain or discussion of pricing and costs may represent lawful, reimbursable costs associated with fetal tissue research." [Politico, 4/19/16]

In The First Hearing, The Select Panel Relied On "Evidence" Pulled Directly From CMP's Website. Previous Media Matters research found that during its first hearing on March 2, the select panel presented "evidence" of wrongdoing pulled directly from CMP's website and deceptively edited videos. For example, when Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced exhibit A3, she presented a form that she described as "the consent form that is used in some of these [abortion] clinics." This same form was listed on CMP's website as a "Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donation form." In its latest video, CMP confirmed that its document was the source of exhibit A3 by transposing the forms on top of one another and removing the redaction bars -- indicating that the two were identical. [Media Matters, 3/7/16]

Three Ways The Media Highlighted The “Misleading” Evidence Being Used By The Select Panel To Attack Planned Parenthood

1. Highlighting Democrats’ Skepticism About The Dubious Sources Of So-Called “Evidence” Being Used By The Panel Republicans

Mother Jones: Democrats “Pose[d] A Fundamental Question” About The Veracity Of The Panel’s Evidence, Asking If The Investigation Was “Really Going To Proceed Based On Stolen And Misleading Documents.” Mother Jones reporter Hannah Levintova wrote that during the April 20 hearing Democrats “pose[d] a fundamental question” about the veracity of the panel’s evidence. Democratic objections to the released exhibits were many -- focusing on the “shoddy sourcing for the committee’s exhibits” and the inability of Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to explain visible discrepancies between the presented evidence and Republican members’ “predetermined conclusion” of guilt. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked whether the investigation was “really going to proceed based on stolen and misleading documents.” Similarly, Rep. Diane DeGette (D-CO) expressed overall “puzzlement as to why the committee refused to be more transparent, particularly given the severity of their allegations”:

As Blackburn was about to begin her opening statement, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) cut in to pose a fundamental question. In advance of the hearing, the committee had released a set of exhibits purporting to show that procurement companies are working with abortion clinics so both players can derive a profit from selling fetal tissue. DeGette requested that she be allowed to question the committee staff that created the packet, in large part because the sourcing for many of the most incendiary pieces of evidence—including a draft contract between a procurement company and an abortion clinic and several charts implying the growing profitability of fetal tissue procurement—is not noted anywhere in the exhibits.

Blackburn declined to make the staff available, answering that the source was the "investigative work" of the committee, as well as materials obtained through the committee's "whistleblower portal," a form on its website. Unsatisfied by this answer, DeGette asked the committee to exclude the use of these exhibits until their origins are ascertained. "If you won't let me find out what the basis is for these exhibits, then I object to their use," she said. The committee rejected her request.

[...]

After the witnesses completed their testimony, DeGette repeated her disapproval of the shoddy sourcing for the committee's exhibits and her puzzlement as to why the committee refused to be more transparent, particularly given the severity of their allegations. "The reason I'm kind of stuck on this," she said, "is because if people are selling fetal tissue in violation of the law, then we need to have an investigation. But we can't have some witch hunt based off some things that were taken off of screenshots and charts created by staff." She continued, "Even though 12 states have investigated and found there was nothing, if you want to send it to the Department of Justice for investigation, I'll guarantee you, they won't make up little charts with their staffs. They will get to the bottom of it with original documents, and I suggest that's what you should do if you think there is a criminal violation." [Mother Jones, 4/21/16]

MSNBC: Democrats “Objected To the Use Of Committee Documents As Proof And Questioned Both Their Origin And Content.” In addition to the documents sourced directly from CMP, the Republican members of the select panel also relied on charts created by committee staff to allege wrongdoing by abortion providers and tissue procurement companies. According to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, this set of documents was “key to Wednesday’s hearing” and drew extensive criticism from Democratic members of the panel. Carmon wrote, that “Democrats on the committee objected to use of the committee documents as proof and questioned both their origin and content.” For example, as Rep. Jerrold Nalder (R-NY) argued, one of the committee-created charts showed that “the clinic has no costs” yet the other exhibits “indicate the clinic contributes other work, like drawing blood, which has been recognized as valid costs by the Government Accountability Office”:

Key to Wednesday’s hearing was a set of documents prepared by Republican staff, which includes unidentified website and contract screenshots that promise profit for clinics. A Republican witness, attorney Michael J. Norton, cited the documents and Daleiden’s videos to pronounce it “clear … that there has been profiteering at multiple levels in this grisly business.”

But Democrats on the committee objected to use of the committee documents as proof and questioned both their origin and content. “This chart says that the clinic has no costs, so the payments are pure profit,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, referring to the abortion clinics that work with tissue procurers and ask their patients if they want to donate their fetal tissue. But Nadler pointed to other documents that indicate the clinic contributes other work, like drawing blood, which have been recognized as valid costs by the Government Accountability Office.
And Schakowsky said that the mentions of “profit” also pertained to adult tissue donations, which are less restricted. [MSNBC, 4/21/16]

The Hill: Democrats Argued Panel’s Exhibits “Are Wildly Misleading And Were Possibly Obtained Illegally.” In an April 20 article for The Hill, Peter Sullivan reported that although panel Republicans insisted they’d unearthed evidence proving Planned Parenthood had “illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue” the Democrats objected that those documents “are wildly misleading and were possibly obtained illegally.” As Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) explained, they were “concerned because the so-called exhibits” were not “really designed to find the facts,” in her judgment. According to The Hill, a letter submitted by the lawyers of a tissue procurement company to the panel further outlined that the Republican members had “repurposed unauthenticated, stolen documents illegally obtained by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress.” From The Hill:

House Republicans are pointing to new documents as evidence that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue, but Democrats say the documents are wildly misleading and were possibly obtained illegally.

[...]

Democrats, though, questioned the validity of the documents, saying it is unclear how they were obtained.

Democrats said that one of the fetal tissue procurement organizations in question is Stem Express. They pointed to a letter from the company that called the documents misleading and stated that some of them could have come from the maker of the videos targeting Planned Parenthood, David Daleiden.

“It appears that the Majority Staff may have repurposed unauthenticated, stolen documents illegally obtained by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress ('CMP'),” states a letter to the committee from Stem Express’s lawyers at McDermott Will & Emery.

For example, the letter states that Exhibit B2, touting services as “financially profitable,” was used for Stem Express’s work on adult blood and adult tissue, as opposed to only for fetal tissue donation.

“I’m concerned because the so-called exhibits, I don’t think they’re really designed to find the facts,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), adding that they were “created from whole cloth.”

She put forward a motion challenging the use of the documents as evidence, but Republicans defeated it. [The Hill, 4/20/16]

2. Pointing Out Chairman Blackburn’s Hypocrisy In Claiming To Be Objective And Asking Others To Be “Impartial”

MSNBC: Chairman Blackburn Wasn’t Interested In “‘Working Together,’” She’s Hoping “Democrats Will Simply Go Along With A Culture-War Crusade.” MSNBC’s Steve Benen criticized Chairman Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) lack of objectivity in a piece about the panel’s hearing -- which he described as “tougher to defend” than the widely criticized Benghazi committee. According to Benen, Blackburn’s calls for “working together” are in fact “a hope that Democrats will simply go along with a culture-war crusade as if the GOP’s latest select committee were a legitimate exercise.” He continued that despite the lack of credible evidence,the panel's Republicans demonstrated little concern that they were basing their accusations on “materials no one could substantiate.” Benen concluded, “if there’s a credible defense for such a reckless waste of Congress’ time, it’s hiding well.” [MSNBC, 4/21/16]

The Washington Post: “Whatever Legitimacy The Select Panel Had Left” Has Consistently “Been Undermined By Blackburn.” According to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “whatever legitimacy the select panel had left” has consistently “been undermined by [Rep. Marsha]Blackburn” and her lack of objectivity. Milbank explained that despite calling for both sides to “work together,” the night before the second panel’s hearing “Blackburn went over to Georgetown University to participate in a protest against Planned Parenthood,” which signals that she “didn’t make any pretense this week of being impartial.” This lack of objectivity continued during the hearing when the evidence relied upon by Republicans to attack Planned Parenthood was found to be “not evidence but an undocumented claim by the Republican staff.”  Unfortunately, Milbank concluded, “doubts about the [CMP] videos and the unsupported ‘exhibit’ did not stop the majority on the panel and their witnesses from relying on both”:

But whatever legitimacy the select panel had left after the videos were discredited has been undermined by Blackburn.

She scheduled the committee’s first hearing for the very day the Supreme Court was holding arguments on the most important abortion case in 24 years. At that hearing, one of Blackburn’s witnesses likened fetal tissue research — a legal practice in the United States — to the experiments of Nazi scientist Josef Mengele, saying the two are “maybe” equivalent. Blackburn, in her opening statement, drew the same comparison and invoked the Nuremberg Code.

[...]

And the evidence that abortion clinics profit from the sale of these body parts? That would be in “Exhibit G,” handed out by Blackburn’s staff. “The AC [abortion clinic] has no costs so the payments from the PB [procurement business] to the AC are pure profit,” it said.

But this incendiary “exhibit” — asserting that any abortion clinic that receives any payment for fetal tissue is breaking the law — turned out to be not evidence but an undocumented claim by the Republican staff. [The Washington Post, 4/20/16]

Jezebel: Lack Of Evidence “Didn’t Stop Rep. Marsha Blackburn” From Following “A Bad House of Cards Plotline” In Her Attacks On Planned Parenthood. In an April 20 article for Jezebel, Anna Merlan reported that a lack of evidence “didn’t stop Rep. Marsha Blackburn” (R-TN) from following a “bad House of Cards plotline” in her attacks on Planned Parenthood. According to Merlan, the fact that the panel’s proof came from illegally obtained and thoroughly debunked CMP documents didn’t bother Blackburn and the other Republicans who will “use the flimsiest shred of evidence to pretend” Planned Parenthood has done something wrong. [Jezebel, 4/20/16]

3. Emphasizing The Historic Parallels Between CMP’s Attacks On Planned Parenthood And A Previous Anti-Choice Smear Campaign By Life Dynamics

Salon: Witnesses Criticized The Panel For Not Calling CMP To Testify, Particularly In Light Of “The Not-So-Distant History” Of  “Strikingly Similar” Anti-Choice Smear Campaigns. During the hearing Fay Clayton -- a lawyer with experience defending procurement companies against baseless attacks -- reminded the panel of the “not-so-distant history” of “strikingly similar” anti-choice smear campaigns. In 2000, Clayton defended “a foundation accused of selling fetal tissue” after the anti-choice group Life Dynamics released a series of deceptive videos. Salon reported that this smear campaign was the “last time House Republicans investigated allegations of illegal fetal tissue research to only find no such thing.” In this iteration of the recycled allegations, Salon argued that Clayton's testimony “laid bare just how much of a farce the GOP’s so-called investigation had become”:

As if Blackburn’s open courting of anti-Planned Parenthood groups wasn’t enough to rip off any disguise of impartiality House Republicans may think they are still cloaked under, the very first witness on Wednesday laid bare just how much of a farce the GOP’s so-called investigation had become.

“Any investigation worthy of the name would begin with taking sworn testimony from Mr. Daleiden, Ms. O’Donnell, and their associates,” said Fay Clayton, an attorney who represented a foundation accused of selling fetal tissue in 2000, the last time House Republicans investigated allegations of illegal fetal tissue research to only find no such thing.

“I find it curious given the not-so-distant history of this strikingly similar scenario that this panel has not demanded sworn testimony of the accusers,” Clayton testified, reminding Republicans that her client was falsely accused of selling fetal tissue by an anti-abortion activist armed with secret videotape. Under oath, the activist later admitted to falsifying the evidence.

“I have to say there is no bigger tell about the veracity of an accusation that when the person who is making the accusation will not stand by his or her accusation under oath,” Clayton argued, noting that the creator of this latest round of hoax videos targeting Planned Parenthood was not called upon to testify by Republicans. Although, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported, Daledian [sic] was live-tweeting the hearings Wednesday, and House Republicans relied upon his videos as the premise for their entire investigation. [Salon, 4/21/16; Media Matters, 9/24/15]

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