House panel seeks to charge StemExpress with criminal contempt

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The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives moved to hold StemExpress, a fetal tissue procurement company that works with Planned Parenthood, in criminal contempt for noncompliance.

After months of waiting for StemExpress to release all of its subpoenaed banking and accounting records, Republicans on the select panel are now pursuing criminal contempt charges for obstructing its investigation into the fetal procurement industry.

“Nine months is enough time for an entity to produce accounting documents,” said select panel Chairwoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. “A subpoena is not a suggestion. It is a lawful order and must be complied with.”

Earlier this year, the panel found evidence that StemExpress works inside of abortion centers to match online orders for baby body parts sold on its website—profiting as much as 400 percent per sale. Yet, members of the panel say that in order to complete their investigation of StemExpress and others involved in the fetal tissue industry, they need to review all financial information.

Blackburn said StemExpress has provided summaries of its financial statements, but not the detailed information that was requested.

“If they have nothing to hide why won’t they release it?” said panel member Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis. “We have had a number of businesses we’ve subpoenaed comply fully and completely with our requests.”

Prior to the vote on whether or not to hold StemExpress in contempt, Democratic members of the panel stormed out of the hearing room. The panel’s eight Republicans then voted unanimously in favor of their resolution to hold StemExpress in criminal contempt.

Rep. Janice Schakowsky from Illinois, the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel is a sub-entity and has no authority to recommend contempt charges.

“This has been a crusade from the start to stop fetal tissue research,” she said. “We are not going to continue to participate in this kind of activity.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., wrote a letter today to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the select panel, to ask he stop the panel from voting on the contempt resolution, saying the panel doesn’t have the power to bring up contempt charges.

“The House resolution that created the Select Panel did not give it the power to bring contempt charges or to issue any contempt reports,” Pallone wrote. “Furthermore, the rules of the House only allow full committees to consider contempt resolutions.”

Blackburn said she will consult with Upton on how to proceed. Upton will have to decide if the panel’s actions can send the contempt resolution straight to the full House for consideration, or if it has to pass through the Energy and Commerce Committee first.

If the House votes in agreement with Republicans on the select panel, the case will go to the Department of Justice for a complete criminal investigation. It is a felony carrying a 10-year prison sentence to sell human fetal tissue for a profit.

Republicans first asked for StemExpress’ financial information on Dec. 17, 2015. When the company did not willingly comply, Blackburn began to issue subpoenas to force StemExpress to reveal its records. The company cited non-disclosure agreements when asked why it wouldn’t turn over all its documents.

In April, a group of bipartisan witnesses, including three former Department of Justice prosecutors, agreed the panel should have access to all financial documents in order to complete its investigation.

According to the Republicans, StemExpress has delayed the panel’s investigation and holding them in contempt is their last resort.

“Imagine what kind of precedent we’re setting if people are not listening or paying attention to subpoenas,” said Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah. “The American people have the right to know what is happening in this industry.”

— by Evan Wilt

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