House Select Investigative Panel Recommends StemExpress Be Held in Criminal Contempt of Congress

Republican members of the House Select Investigative Panel, which has been spending taxpayer dollars investigating the bogus allegations made by the so-called Center for Medical Progress (CMP) against abortion providers, voted yesterday to recommend that StemExpress, a small biomedical company, be held in criminal contempt. The six democratic members of the Panel walked out before the vote, refusing to take part in what they called a “McCarthyesque witch hunt”.

StemExpress was targeted in the now discredited CMP videos released last year that falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. These are the same videos that inspired the creation of the Panel.  Investigations by twelve state and three House committees have found the claims made in the series of videos to be totally without merit.

House Panel Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused StemExpress of failing to turnover subpoenaed documentation, including the names of all employees involved with fetal tissue procurement. The company has provided over 1,700 pages of information and offered to have its procurement director explain its business practices to members of the Panel. That offer was ignored by Chair Blackburn and other Republican members of the Panel.

Before the vote, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) blasted Blackburn for threatening StemExpress with criminal contempt. “Chair Blackburn has manufactured a controversy over information that she does not need.  Her threat to punish a small biotech company and its owner is particularly outrageous given the company’s compliance with her unilateral subpoena demands,” said Schakowsky. “The McCarthyesque threat that StemExpress ‘name names’ of all employees or face congressional contempt is disgraceful.”

Democrats have warned that the Panel’s hunt for StemExpress employee names could threaten the lives of those individuals, as the CEO has already received death threats since the investigation began. In April, a Washington man pled guilty in federal court to threatening the lives of StemExpress employees and encouraging others to kill them.

Now that the Panel has voted on criminal contempt, the issue must go to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote. If approved, it can then be sent to the full House chamber for a vote. Only if the full chamber votes in favor of contempt does the matter go to a grand jury for indictment and then to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution. It is unlikely that any recommendation will be addressed by the House before the November election.

Given the Panel’s choice to employ criminal, versus civil, contempt, it appears that the use of this process is not meant to actually force StemExpress to produce the subpoenaed documents. Instead, criminal contempt is generally used to fine and imprison the implicated party.

In a statement released Wednesday House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Families across America are facing public health crises: the Zika virus, poisoned water in Flint, the opioid epidemic, gun violence and more. Instead of confronting these crises, Republicans are consumed with their war on women’s health. Republicans should stop putting life-saving research at risk and work with House Democrats to create a safe, healthier, stronger America for all.”

The fraudulent video series and subsequent investigations have led to a dramatic increase in threats and violence against abortion providers. Since last year the Feminist Majority Foundation has been calling on the Panel to either redirect its focus to violence against abortion providers or disband. Take action here.

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