HOUSTON – A grand jury yesterday completely cleared a Planned Parenthood clinic that had been charged with illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.
On the other hand, it indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the two people behind the charges, for “tampering with a governmental record,” a felony carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Moreover, it charged Daleiden with the violation he had tried to pin on Planned Parenthood: the illegal purchase or sale of human organs.
Last July, Daleiden and Merritt kicked off an orgy of right wing furor by releasing videotapes they had secretly made purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue.
Republican lawmakers spent millions of dollars and countless hours holding hearings reviewing the tapes and investigating Planned Parenthood. Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul used the tapes to lead right wingers in the U.S. House and Senate in an attempt to shut down the government rather than adopt a federal budget that included Planned Parenthood funding.
Daleiden and Merritt are leaders of an outfit called the Center for Medical Progress, based in California. Posing as representatives of a biotechnology firm, they used fake identification to set up meetings with officials of the Planned Parenthood clinic serving the Houston area. They tried to convince the officials to sell them fetal tissue and secretly recorded the meetings using their smartphones.
The Planned Parenthood officials wouldn’t bite, so Daleiden and Merritt evidently doctored the videos and released them to the public.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a right wing Republican and an ardent opponent of women having the right to choose their own health care options, asked District Attorney Devon Anderson, also a Republican activist, to convene a grand jury to conduct a criminal investigation of Planned Parenthood. Anderson’s jurisdiction includes Harris County and Houston.
After more than two months of intensive work, the grand jury reached its verdict and indicted not Planned Parenthood, but Daleiden and Merritt.
District Attorney Anderson would not reveal any details of the case, but observers believe that the indictment for “tampering with a government record” probably means that the grand jury found that Daleiden and Merritt had tampered with the tapes that were reviewed by the House and Senate.
Daleiden was probably slapped with the additional charge of attempting to purchase a human organ because he sent an email to Planned Parenthood in June offering to buy fetal tissue for $1,600 per sample. Planned Parenthood never responded.
In announcing the grand jury’s decision, the Harris County District Attorney’s office issued a statement saying, “After a lengthy and thorough investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers, and the Houston Police Department, a Harris County grand jury took no action Monday against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
District Attorney Anderson said, “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.”