It didn’t take long after Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the indictment of anti-Planned Parenthood videomakers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for the conspiracy theories to swirl.
It also didn’t take long for Anderson to shut all of them down. In a two-minute video statement posted Wednesday night, Anderson vehemently rebuts the idea that her office was ideologically predisposed to punish the pro-lifers.
“Anyone who pays attention knows that I’m pro-life,” Anderson said. “I believe abortion is wrong. But my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law.”
Daleiden and Merritt, activists from the Center for Medical Progress who have long alleged that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the practice of fetal tissue donation, have both been indicted on second-degree felony charges for tampering with a governmental record, based on their use of fake driver’s licenses while posing as representatives of a biomedical research company.
Daleiden has received an additional misdemeanor charge for soliciting human organs. Since the indictment, a Planned Parenthood lawyer has said that Daleiden sent an email to the organization in June 2015 asking to buy fetal tissue for $1,600.
Even though Anderson’s beliefs don’t align with Planned Parenthood, she told doubters in her Wednesday video statement that the grand jury had to follow the evidence: “The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn’t always lead where you want to go.”
The Harris County grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. So far, none of the many state-level investigations into the organization sparked by Daleiden’s undercover video campaign have turned up evidence of criminal behavior.
That hasn’t stopped the tinfoil hats from coming out in force to protest this first criminal indictment of the anti-abortion activists.
First, outlets like the anti-abortion LifeNews and The Federalist revealed what they believed to be a smoking gun: Lauren Reeder, a prosecutor in the Harris County DA’s office, is on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, the affiliate that Anderson’s office was instructed to investigate.
Anderson had strong words on Wednesday for anyone who thinks Reeder’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood influenced the grand jury’s decision-making.
“That is simply not true,” she said. “In August, the day after our lieutenant governor asked me to investigate the allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, this prosecutor notified me of her affiliation with this organization.”
Indeed, last August, Anderson announced to the press, “[Reeder] will not be involved in any manner in this investigation. If at any time in the future, reliable and credible information is brought to my attention that would question our ability to continue to perform a fair, thorough and independent investigation of this matter due to her board membership, I will revisit the issue of seeking the appointment of an independent prosecutor and act accordingly.”
Reeder did not participate, Anderson reiterated in her video statement.
“That is what happened,” she said, definitively. “She’s a fairly new prosecutor who would never have been assigned to an investigation of this magnitude anyway.”
Anderson didn’t stop there.
“And for the record, we have 600 employees, 300 of whom are prosecutors in our office,” she said, adding, “As the District Attorney of Harris County, I will never let my personal beliefs conflict with my obligation to follow the laws of our state.”
LifeNews and the Center for Medical Progress’ defense attorneys have also alleged that a second-degree felony charge for falsifying identification is extreme, and suggested that Daleiden and Merritt are comparable to minors who have used fake IDs to buy alcohol.
But the law’s the law, Anderson reminded them.
“The defense attorneys also said today that the ‘Tampering With a Governmental Record’ cases should not have been charged as felonies since young people who are caught with fake IDs typically face misdemeanor charges here,” she recalled. “But under Texas Law, if a person uses a fake ID from another state, it is a felony charge. That’s the law.”
Daleiden and Merritt’s fake IDs, listing their names as “Robert Sarkis” and “Susan Tennenbaum,” were from California, not Texas.
Anderson also indicated that she would not be complying with new requests from Daleiden and Merritt’s defense attorneys to throw out the indictments and represent the investigation to a different grand jury.
“We have a long standing policy against grand jury ‘shopping,’” she said, lifting her hands up to make the air quotes. “That means when a grand jury comes back with a decision we don’t like, we don’t go and find another one to get the results we want.”
For anyone hoping that a pro-life DA would manipulate the system to let Daleiden and Merritt off the hook, Anderson made her position perfectly clear: “Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken and I respect their decision even if it conflicts with my personal beliefs.”