Texas grand jury clears Planned Parenthood, indicts its accusers
A Texas investigation into Planned Parenthood on Monday culminated in an indictment — of the organization’s accusers instead of the group.
The Harris County District Attorney’s office announced that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast had been cleared in the two-month-long investigation.
But the grand jury did indict two individuals who were involved in making secret recordings of the group that were released to publicly discredit the group, which provides health services and abortions.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were indicted for tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony, and Daleiden was also indicted on the count of prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs, a class A misdemeanor, according to the Harris County district attorney.
According to the Harris County District Clerk’s website, a warrant for Daleiden had been issued Monday evening. Daleiden’s Twitter profile identifies his residence as Irvine, California, where his group, the Center for Medical Progress, is located. The indictments were not yet available.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a 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.”
A statement released on behalf of Daleiden said he used the “same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws.”
“We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well. Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see,” the statement from a spokesperson said.
Planned Parenthood officials lauded the indictments.
“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,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said state officials were continuing to investigate the Texas Planned Parenthood, however.
“The Health and Human Service Commission’s Inspector General and the Attorney General’s office have an ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood’s actions,” Abbott said in a statement. “Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation. The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”
The Texas attorney general echoed Abbott and said the state investigation will continue.
“The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.
And Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, who has led the charge against Planned Parenthood in Congress, called the decision “senseless.”
“It is a sad day in America when those who harvest the body parts of aborted babies escape consequences for their actions, while the courageous truth-tellers who expose their misdeeds are handed down a politically motivated indictment instead,” Black said.
But the top Democrat on the House panel investigating Planned Parenthood said it’s time for House Republicans to “admit when they’re wrong.”
“Today we see that the truth still matters,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said in a statement.
Daleiden is a project lead for the Center for Medical Progress, a group that produced a series of videos over the summer depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue and appearing to talk about the price for such tissue.
Planned Parenthood maintains that it does not profit from the sale of fetal tissue and only recovers its cost. After the videos raised controversy, Planned Parenthood announced it would no longer accept reimbursement.
The videos were edited and in some cases contained footage that was not aborted fetuses at all. In one, Daleiden used footage of a still-born child he found online with a narration about a Planned Parenthood abortion of a fetus the same age.
Planned Parenthood this month filed a lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, alleging the defendants lied their way into the recorded meetings and set up a fake company and personal identities to pull off the videos.
The lawsuit also accuses the group of committing crimes including wire and mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing.
Daleiden at the time downplayed the lawsuit as “frivolous” and a “last-ditch move of desperation.”
The videos have been an intense topic on the 2016 campaign trail, with Republicans using them as evidence to call for the dismantling of Planned Parenthood, while Democrats have rallied around the organization.
Conservatives were dismayed with the indictment Monday, and some accused the Harris County DA’s office of being biased because one of its prosecutors, Lauren Reeder, has served on the Planned Parenthood board.
In August, when Reeder’s background was disclosed by the DA, Anderson insisted she would be separated from the case.
“She will not be involved in any manner in this investigation,” Anderson said at the time, according to the Houston Chronicle.
CNN’s Jeremy Grisham, Christopher Lett, Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.
By Tal Kopan