Congressional Democrats have opened their own investigation into the Planned Parenthood videos — but into the group that took the footage in which officials haggle over the prices of organs and discuss keeping a baby alive so his brain can be harvested.
The Center for Medical Progress may have broken federal laws in setting up a false-front company to secretly record Planned Parenthood employees talking about these and other practices, the Democrats say.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said it’s possible some of his colleagues in Congress knew about CMP’s activities and didn’t flag them for potential illegal behavior.
“These disturbing actions raise questions about whether the Center for Medical Progress has broken federal or state laws, and whether some members of Congress may have been aware of these potentially illegal activities before they were made public earlier this year,” the Maryland congressman wrote in a Thursday letter to David Daleiden, chief executive of CMP.
Mr. Cummings’ letter asks for documents on CMP funding, donors, associates, activities and meetings and copies of all video and audio footage with Planned Parenthood employees.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, already has opened an investigation into the scandal, and asked Planned Parenthood and the Health and Human Services Department for information.
PHOTOS: Greatest Wheel Of Fortune FAILS
Mr. Cummings said in his letter that if the investigation is going to be “legitimate and balanced,” the committee also must address CMP’s activities.
CMP has been roiling much of the country with its disturbing undercover videos, and it released its seventh video this week. Planned Parenthood officials have been captured talking casually over lunch or in offices with CMP actors, pretending to be tissue buyers, about pre-ordering fetal parts and about changing abortion techniques to get the best “specimens.”
The videos also have graphic footage of lab technicians picking through post-abortive fetal remains looking for high-value organs, while noticing which sex the baby was.
Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician for biotech firm StemExpress, has said on camera that pregnant women did not always give proper or voluntary consent for fetal donations; in Wednesday’s video, she said she was asked to slice open the head of a 20-week-old male fetus with a beating heart to collect his brain.
Since the videos first appeared July 14, pro-choice activists have been urging Congressional Democrats and other allies to defend Planned Parenthood.
“Anti-abortion activists are trying to discredit and destroy Planned Parenthood,” said CREDO Action, which has collected some 133,000 signatures on a petition telling Democrats in Congress to “Stand up for Planned Parenthood and block any attempts to undermine or defund” it.
PHOTOS: Awesome rifles: The best and the baddest
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, responded to the early videos by calling for an investigation “of those people who were trying to ensnare Planned Parenthood in a controversy that doesn’t exist.”
Planned Parenthood has a “solid grounding of support with the American people,” Mrs. Pelosi told a briefing with reporters before the summer recess. Controversies over use of fetal tissue in research are misplaced — such research has long been approved, she said.
Four House Democrats also moved swiftly, asking Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP, which is based in Irvine, California.
The July 21 letter — from Democratic Reps. Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois, Zoe Lofgren of California, Jerrold Nadler of New York and Yvette D. Clarke of New York — asked that CMP be examined for its impersonations of biotech officials, creating a false biotech corporate entity and possibly filing falsified tax returns and other documents with state and federal agencies.
Ms. Lynch, noting that Republican lawmakers have asked for an investigation into Planned Parenthood, said in July that the Justice Department would review information about the videos.
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat and co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, also has asked a congressional investigator to be sure to gather “exculpatory” footage of Planned Parenthood officials.
Officials for CMP “deceptively misrepresented its goals and objectives to Planned Parenthood employees on a consistent basis to get access to information they otherwise would have never been privy to,” Ms. DeGette wrote to Rep. Tim Murphy, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
In light of this deceptive behavior, their “misleading editing” raises questions about the videos, she wrote.
Meanwhile, pro-life groups are seizing the video releases as clear evidence that Planned Parenthood has been profiting from abortions and the sale of fetal remains, and opposing restrictions on late-term abortions not because they care about women, but because mature fetal parts are more valuable for procurement.
More than 300 protests, rallies and demonstrations are being organized at Planned Parenthood clinics this Saturday, using the hashtag #PPSellsBabyParts.
On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state was one of the first to investigate Planned Parenthood — and cancel the state’s Medicaid contract with it — had an unusual response to a pro-choice demonstration at the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge.
He set up a movie screen on the front lawn to show the CMP videos.
“We hope the protesters will take a minute to watch them, so they’ll have an opportunity to see first-hand our concerns with Planned Parenthood’s actions,” said Mr. Jindal, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.