After publicly calling the undercover video anti-abortion activists filmed inside a Houston Planned Parenthood facility “disturbing,” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, an avowed pro-life Republican, inexplicably colluded with lawyers representing Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation.
That’s according to attorneys representing David Daleiden, one of the anti-abortion activists indicted by a local grand jury earlier this year for lying his way into a Houston clinic. On Thursday, Daleiden’s lawyers filed motions to quash the two criminal counts against him, alleging a conspiracy between the Republican DA and “pro-abortion lawyers” that they claim tainted the grand jury that indicted Daleiden and another activist.
Activists Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with the so-called Center for Medical Progress, a group rooted in the radical fringes of the anti-abortion movement, lied their way into conferences with abortion providers and private medical facilities to film conversations with Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation. Among the heavily-edited videos was one shot inside a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast facility last year; the two activists gained access to the building using fake IDs.
When the Houston video surfaced last summer, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick urged Anderson to launch a criminal investigation into the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, citing “the gruesome and barbaric work of Planned Parenthood and what appears to be it’s [sic] profiteering from selling body parts from aborted babies.” In a press conference announcing her office’s investigation, Anderson called the videos “disturbing.”
Clearly that investigation took a turn somewhere along the way. In January a grand jury not only cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing but also indicted Daleiden and Merritt on second-degree felony charges of tampering with a government record. Ironically, Daleiden was also charged with the very same crime he’s accused Planned Parenthood of committing.
In the motions filed Thursday to quash those indictments, Daleiden’s lawyers argue that their client should have been informed somewhere along the way that the focus of the investigation had shifted. They point to public statements made by Planned Parenthood’s attorney following the indictments saying he pushed for the DA to investigate any criminal action the anti-abortion activists may have taken in filming their undercover “sting” videos.
Daleiden’s attorneys also allege that the DA’s office improperly shared information about its investigation with Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. They point out that the NAF somehow knew in early January that Daleiden had turned over videos to investigators that had been covered by a temporary restraining order; the NAF sued Daleiden’s group in a California federal court last year seeking to block the release of any more videos.
While we’re not exactly what to make of that (NAF and Planned Parenthood didn’t respond to questions yesterday and Anderson provided a brief statement saying, “I am confident that the actions of the DA’s office in this case will withstand any scrutiny"), Daleiden’s attorneys blow it up into this:
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“The defendant believes and is informed that the National Abortion Federation was notified of the contents of Mr. Daleiden’s grand jury production by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Defendant also believes and has been informed that, throughout the instant grand jury proceedings, prosecutors provided some or all of the evidence produced to the grand jury – including TRO videos and other material produced by Daleiden – to the target of its investigation, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.”
The acrimony between Anderson and this particular corner of the anti-abortion movement goes back to 2013, when, just months into office, Anderson oversaw the grand jury that cleared a local abortion provider named Douglas Karpen. That investigation followed similarly grisly allegations made by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, whose founder, Troy Newman, was also behind the group that produced the Planned Parenthood videos. At the time, Karpen’s defense lawyer Chip Lewis claimed that Operation Rescue had doctored the photos and paid people to lob false allegations at the Karpen, which the group denied. Some in the anti-abortion movement have been furious with Anderson ever since the case was no-billed.
In fact, when the indictments against Daleiden and Merritt hit earlier this year, Operation Rescue responded with a straight-up conspiracy theory involving a revenge plot somehow cooked up by Lewis, who’s apparently influential enough to convince a staunch pro-life Republican DA to target anti-abortion activists instead of social conservatives’ favorite punching bag.
If Daleiden's defense tactic sounds familiar, it might be because it's similar to the one deployed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as he fights two felony counts: attack the process, not the criminal allegations against you.