By Jill Stanek
September 28, 2011 (1 of 2)
Yesterday came the welcome news that a congressional committee has launched an investigation of Planned Parenthood.
Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns (pictured right), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (under the Energy & Commerce Committee), had been threatening a probe for months, particularly after Americans United for Life released a damning report in July documenting decades of malfeasance by the United States’ largest abortion provider.
Stearns followed through and on September 15 issued a letter to Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards requesting 12 years’ worth of financial records, state audits, and policies from both Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its 83 affiliates, to be handed over “within two weeks of the date of this letter,” or by tomorrow, September 29.
According to the letter, Stearns’ committee will investigate improper billing and overbilling by PP affiliates to the government; comingling of government funds intended for Titles X and XIX with PP’s abortion operations, which would be illegal; and PP’s policies and procedures for reporting sex abuse and trafficking to authorities.
AUL’s report documented that PP affiliates have indeed been caught overbilling, failing to report minor sex abuse, and failing to comply with parental involvement laws, to name just three infractions of many.
PP took almost the entire two weeks after receiving Stearns’ letter to get its PR ducks in a row before announcing news of the investigation yesterday, obviously alerting Washington Post pro-abort go-to reporter Sarah Kliff and readying Democrat pro-abort Congressman Henry Waxman’s protest letter for simultaneous release with its own press statement. Note the timing of the tweets…
I spoke with Charmaine Yoest, president of AUL, and asked what to expect next. She said PP could take one of four actions: 1) provide only undamaging, incomplete information; 2) provide massive amounts of material that would take years to wade through and hope no one finds any ugly details; 3) stonewall; 4) provide accurate information.
#3, stonewalling, appears unlikely, because it would make the organization look like it has something to hide and risk incurring the wrath of Stearns. In fact, PP wrote in its statement it “is responding to the request in a timely manner.”
#2, providing TMI, would also seem unlikely, because even if handing over needles in a haystack to the government, PP would still be handing them over.
#1 or #4 are most likely. Planned Parenthood is legally obligated to respond to Stearns’ subpoenas.
Stearns’ staff will investigate PP’s paperwork and issue a public report. They can put all of PP’s submitted information in the report, making it public. If they find a smoking gun or guns, they can follow up with hearings.
Examining subpoenaed documents is precisely how Solyndra was exposed – by this same committee. From ABC News, September 13:
The emails were uncovered by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings on the Solyndra loan Wednesday. The Republican-led House has been investigating the Obama administration’s green energy loan program for months…. Last week, the FBI raided the factory….
Finding damaging information that PP’s top-notch attorneys may attempt to hide will depend on how good Stearns’ staff is. I asked Charmaine if Stearns can ask outside organizations that are PP-savvy to examine PP’s documents, such as AUL or American Life League’s STOPP. She said it is totally legal and acceptable for a congressional committee to request investigatory help from outside experts.
I hope Congressman Stearns does so. I think he will. He was brave going into this, knowing the other side would malign him with both barrels. I expect he will want to do all he can to find as much evidence as possible of PP’s wrong-doing.
September 28, 2011 (2 of 2)
From Legal Times this afternoon:
Planned Parenthood has retained lawyers from Hogan Lovells as it prepares to respond to a sweeping new inquiry into how the organization and its affiliates use federal money….
[Congressman Cliff] Stearns’ [House Energy & Commerce] subcommittee is one of the most active congressional panels for conducting investigations, and corporations and organizations that are in the subcommittee’s crosshairs often look to outside help….
Working on the matter for Planned Parenthood are Hogan Lovells partner E. Desmond Hogan and of counsel Reid Stuntz. Both lawyers have experience in congressional investigations, and Stuntz is a former chief counsel on the oversight subcommittee under then-Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), according to his firm profile.
The situation is unique for PP. Although it has been drawn into other Capitol Hill inquiries in the past, it has never before been a target and Stearns’ letter makes clear that it is. “This is the first time someone has said, ‘I’m going to investigate the organization,’ ” said Roger Evans, the director of public policy litigation for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a phone interview today.
Stearns initially asked PP to turn over documents by Sept. 29, but Evans said he and the subcommittee have agreed on a two-week extension. The subcommittee is asking for copies of audits from as early as 1991, related documents about funding and information about how Planned Parenthood detects possible criminal conduct such as sex trafficking.
This may be the first time PP has been investigated by Congress but certainly not the first time PP has been investigated – and found guilty. In fact, the House’s investigation is way overdue.