January 26, 2016 — A grand jury in Harris County, Texas, on Monday indicted two members of the antiabortion-rights group Center for Medical Progress who helped secretly record videos targeting Planned Parenthood, theNew York Times reports (Fernandez/Eckholm, New York Times, 1/25).
CMP over the summer began releasing a series of misleading videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. Further, areport by a research and corporate intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, found that the videos were manipulated (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27/15).
Following the release of the videos, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called for the Harris County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (New York Times, 1/25).
Grand Jury Proceedings
The Harris County grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and instead indicted CMP Director David Daleiden and CMP employee Sandra Merritt (Paquette, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 1/25).
Both Daleiden and Merritt have been indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record. In addition, Daleiden has been indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to buying human organs (AP/Modern Healthcare, 1/25). Warrants have been issued for Daleiden and Merritt, each with a $10,000 bond.
According to the record tampering charges, Daleiden and Merritt created false California drivers licenses and used them with an intent to defraud when they met with PPGC officials in April 2015, the Timesreports. Josh Schaffer, a lawyer representing PPGC, said, "We know that they used fake IDs that had their real photographs but fake names and fake addresses purported to be issued by the State of California." He added, "They never denied that they presented a fake ID" (New York Times, 1/25).
The charge of tampering with a governmental record carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison (Ura, Texas Tribune, 1/25).
According to Schaffer, the misdemeanor charge likely is related to emails Daleiden sent to Planned Parenthood in June 2015, in which he offered to pay $1,600 per fetal tissue sample. Schaffer said Planned Parenthood did not reply to the offer. However, Schaffer noted that the written charges had not been publicly released at the time of his comments and he was "working on [his] knowledge of the investigation" (New York Times, 1/25).
The charge carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail (Texas Tribune, 1/25).
Other Investigations Continue
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the indictment did not affect the state's other, ongoing investigations into Planned Parenthood. Those investigations are being conducted by the state Department of Health and Human Services Commission and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R).
According to the Times, multiple state and congressional investigations into the organization have not found that Planned Parenthood committed any of the actions alleged in the videos (New York Times, 1/25).
In response to the indictment, Daleiden compared CMP's tactics to those of investigative reporters and claimed the group follows the law (AP/Modern Healthcare, 1/25).
Anderson said, "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us." She called the investigation "lengthy and thorough" and noted, "All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury."
Eric Ferrero, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the indictment. "These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda," he said, adding, "As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we're glad they're being held accountable" (New York Times, 1/25).
PPGC spokesperson Rochelle Tafolla said, "This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies" (AP/Modern Healthcare, 1/25).
Separately, Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, also lauded the findings. "As we've known all along, David Daleiden is the one who broke the law, not abortion providers," she said, adding, "In order to launch his smear campaign, Daleiden engaged in a long-running illegal conspiracy and he should be held accountable for his actions, which have put abortion providers at risk" ("Post Nation," Washington Post, 1/25).