Dems Blast GOP on Fetal Tissue Sale Claims

     WASHINGTON (CN) – House Democrats Wednesday accused their GOP counterparts of presenting inaccurate and misleading evidence at a hearing looking into whether a company violated federal law and profited from the sale of fetal tissue.
     At the Wednesday morning hearing Republicans presented more than 30 charts, graphs, contracts and alleged screen grabs from medical procurement company StemExpress that they said showed the company “made a lot of money” by selling fetal tissue.
     The committee investigating the allegations was convened last year in the wake of a series of undercover videos which some claimed showed executives for Planned Parenthood bartering over the cost of organs and other tissues of aborted fetuses.
     The videos, which Democrats on the committee repeatedly said were highly doctored, sparked widespread outrage on Capitol Hill and led to the Senate voting to defund Planned Parenthood, if only for the effort to fall to a presidential veto.
     One of the exhibits, which Republicans referenced time and again on Wednesday, was a purported screen grab of a page from StemExpress’ website that allegedly allows users to select from fetal brain, heart, lungs, liver and other organs listed in a dropdown menu.
     Two others, one said to be another screen grabs of the company’s website and the other, a company brochure, promise a program that “fiscally rewards clinics” and provides “financial profits.”
     Another exhibit purports to show a draft agreement between StemExpress and an “abortion trade association” from last year while others include contracts and invoices between StemExpress and abortion clinics, which Republicans said showed profits rather than reimbursements.
     “Now, you do not have to be a lawyer to see what’s going on here,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said. “You put up a website that offers all the parts imaginable – and why on earth would anybody ever need a baby scalp? – then you pick a gestation period and you check out.”
     But Democrats accused Republicans of using exhibits “made out of whole cloth” that did not prove what they claimed and lacked context and sourcing.
     Almost immediately after Blackburn opened the hearing before the select investigation panel, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., interrupted and raised concerns about the origins of the some of the exhibits to be presented.
     DeGette alleged the screen grab Republicans claimed showed StemExpress advertising its services as profitable to abortion clinics was not even from the company’s website. She also questioned where bar graphs showing dramatic increases in StemExpress’ profits in recent years came from.
     “Some of them were created wholesale by Republican staff,” DeGette said. “There was no explanation of the underlying factual foundation for those materials, the methodology that was used in coming up with these charts or some of the graphs that we had, and frankly I believe them to be misleading.”
     DeGette raised a motion to exclude the exhibits from the hearing, which failed to pass through the Republican-controlled committee.
     But the failure of the motion didn’t stop Democrats from attacking the investigation’s validity throughout the nearly three-hour hearing.
     “From the outset, this investigation has not been an objective investigation or fact-based search for the truth but a political weapon to attack women’s healthcare and lifesaving research and harass and intimidate those who provide these services,” Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., said during her opening statements.
     Schakowsky noted less than 1 percent of StemExpress’ revenue came from the sale of fetal tissue and said the screenshot apparently advertising profits for abortion clinics was likely referring to adult blood samples.
     Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., testified briefly before the committee and slammed the investigation as a wasteful witch hunt.
     “Not only do I believe that this panel is an inappropriate and wasteful misuse of federal resources, but I am gravely concerned that it also puts researches, providers and patients across the country at risk,” Shaheen said.
     Republicans, however, stuck by their exhibits and claims through the objections.
     Blackburn said committee staff obtained the documents presented at the hearing through “regular investigatory work,” and hit Democrats for leaking documents to StemExpress.
     After the hearing she denied Democrats’ claims StemExpress had offered to testify before the panel, saying she would have welcomed the company into the hearing room.
     Pointing to the screen grab with the lengthy dropdown menu of fetal organs, Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Penn., expressed outrage at the ease with which researchers could purchase tissue.
     “For crying out loud, this is the Amazon.com of baby body parts,” Pitts said. “There is a market for baby body parts and you get what you pay for. This is absolutely repulsive.”
     After the hearing Blackburn said her panel would deliver a report on its findings by the end of the year, which would then allow Congress to take action on tightening laws on fetal tissue sale.
     While Republicans and Democrats were entrenched in their positions, the panel of lawyers the committee convened to detail the implications of the exhibits was split on whether the investigation amounted to anything.
     Four of the six witnesses suggested the documents could form the basis of a criminal investigation, though attorney Robert Raben warned the committee its panel of lawyers could do nothing more than speculate about whether the documents show criminal misconduct.
     Fay Clayton, who in 2000 represented a company hit with allegations similar to those the committee was levying against StemExpress, warned the committee that its investigation was based on discredited videos and challenged it to question David Daleiden, who created the Planned Parenthood sting videos.
     “For nearly four decades I have been representing corporations and individuals in business litigation, and have to say there is no bigger tell about the veracity of an accusation than when the person who’s making the allegation will not stand by his or her accusation under oath,” Clayton said.
     Clayton and Democrats on the committee repeatedly compared Wednesday’s hearing to the one from 2000, which fell apart when Dean Alberty, who created a video similar to the Planned Parenthood stings against Clayton’s client, confessed to lying in the tapes.
     On the other end of the spectrum, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Mike Norton said not conducting a criminal investigation into the committee’s findings would be unjust.
     “To do nothing about potential of the commission of criminal crimes is indeed flouting the criminal justice system of this nation,” Norton said. “And I think preferring those in well-connected places over those who are not.”

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