After months of slanderous attacks on Planned Parenthood, Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, admitted Thursday that he and his committee had, predictably, turned up no evidence whatsoever that Planned Parenthood ever engaged in any wrongdoing. But that doesn’t mean they’re done looking for proof to justify the baseless conclusions they’ve already drawn.
The GOP’s latest round of investigations into Planned Parenthood — a continuation of a three-decades-long effort by conservatives to defund the women’s healthcare organization — began in June, when the Center for Medical Progress, an extreme anti-abortion group, released a series of videos which they claimed were “proof of Planned Parenthood’s illegal trafficking of aborted fetal parts.” Of course, that’s not what the footage actually shows. In reality, the illegally recorded videos show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing their participation in the legal donation of fetal tissue for research purposes.
Even after an independent forensic analysis of the videos concluded that they are so egregiously manipulated that they would never be accepted as evidence in a court of law, Republicans have continued to accept the doctored footage as fact, using it as the basis for renewing their attacks on the nation’s leading provider of low-cost reproductive and sexual health care, and using taxpayer dollars to fund costly investigations that have repeatedly cleared the agency of wrongdoing.
Footage from these videos was repeatedly cited as “evidence” in last Tuesday’s GOP-led congressional hearing, during which committee chairman Chaffetz spent five hours badgering Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards about such topics as her salary, how the agency spends private donations, and why women need women’s health care, not men‘s health care — issues that you may notice are not at all relevant to the hearing’s stated purpose of “examin[ing] the use of taxpayer funding.” Ultimately, it was Chaffetz who came under fire after he tried to use a manipulated graph to distort information about Planned Parenthood’s services, and then got caught lying about the source of the graph. Even anti-choice opponents of Planned Parenthood called the hearing “an embarrassing freakshow” and described the Republicans who led it as “incompetent morons.”
“Did we find any wrongdoing? The answer was no.” – Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), House Oversight Committee Chairman
At the conclusion of yet another government hearing on Thursday, Chaffetz was forced to concede that this latest congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood — the third of its kind since June — had not uncovered a single piece of evidence supporting Republicans’ claims that the Planned Parenthood was involved in illegal fetal tissue sales.
“Did I look at the finances and have a hearing specifically as to the revenue portion and how they spend? Yes,” Chaffetz said during Thursday’s judiciary hearing, according to the Huffington Post. “Did we find any wrongdoing? The answer was no.”
But if you think this means that Republicans will finally stop attacking Planned Parenthood and move onto something more important, like governing – think again. Despite the fact that, since June, the agency has been cleared of wrongdoing in seven state investigations, three congressional committee reviews, and one federal probe, Chaffetz doesn’t see an end in sight: “I think there will continue to be investigations,” he said.
Indeed, just a day before admitting that not a single investigation has turned up a single piece of evidence against Planned Parenthood, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to create a special committee devoted entirely to investigating Planned Parenthood. But this isn’t just any congressional committee — as Roll Call’s Emma Dumain explains, the GOP has taken extreme measures to ensure that members of the subcommittee, operating under the Energy and Commerce Committee, will be among the staunchest anti-choice members of Congress.
“GOP leadership agreed [with outside anti-abortion groups] and has also listened to outside advice on exactly whom to appoint.” – Emma Dumain, Roll Call
Under normal operating procedures, the Energy and Commerce Committee would be responsible for overseeing the investigations, and the subcommittee’s members would be drawn exclusively from the Committee’s existing membership. But according to Roll Call, when right-wing anti-choice groups outside Congress told Republicans leaders this wasn’t good enough, Republicans decided to simply disregard normal operating procedures and let the anti-abortion groups take over for them:
Outside advocates and leaders in the anti-abortion community urged Republican leaders to expand the committee to lawmakers outside Energy and Commerce to include more stalwarts of their movement. GOP leadership agreed and has also listened to outside advice on exactly whom to appoint.
As a result, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee to investigate Planned Parenthood will include members who have nothing to do with the Energy and Commerce panel – but who are known for their unyielding opposition to reproductive rights and whose names will be vetted through anti-choice organizations like the March for Life Education and Action Fund, the Susan B. Anthony List, and the National Right to Life Committee. Representatives from all of these anti-abortion agencies told Roll Call that they are participating in discussions about appointments to the subcommittee with top congressional Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who said they “welcomed” the feedback.
So even though Republicans have conceded that every investigation to-date has cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, conservative lawmakers are still not ready to end the witch hunt. Instead, they’re now using taxpayer dollars to allow anti-abortion extremists to help hand-pick a 13-member panel to “investigate” Planned Parenthood for the very same claims that have already been disproven. While outside influence in politics is nothing new, the level of involvement of anti-abortion groups in the creation of this subcommittee was unusual enough to “raise eyebrows” among several lawmakers and aides from both sides of the aisle, who told Roll Call that they “were unsettled by what would appear to be inappropriate interference from activists.”
Most tellingly, House Majority Leader McCarthy has already suggested he intends to turn the investigation of Planned Parenthood into the next Benghazi.
As Bob Cesca wrote in Salon, “Combined with the revelation that the Benghazi hearings were convened as a tactic to flummox Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations, we have no choice but to seriously look into the ethics and subsequent chicanery of the Republican caucus to determine whether they’re misappropriating funds and wasting time on witch hunts that represent nothing but political fappery rather than a serious probe into charges based on provable evidence.”