Select Investigative Panel Democrats Highlight Conflict of Interest at HHS
Today, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Chief Deputy Whip and the Ranking Democrat on the now-defunct Select Investigative Panel, led the Democratic Members of the Panel on a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. In the letter, Reps. Schakowsky, Jerrold Nadler, Diana DeGette, Jackie Speier, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Suzan DelBene, expressed their serious concerns about the current Chief of Staff to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS, Mr. March Bell. Mr. Bell served as the Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Select Panel’s Majority. The Members wrote:
“As members of that Panel, we were concerned about Mr. Bell’s service at the time, we are deeply disturbed about evidence we learned about later that Mr. Bell may have acted improperly during that investigation by secretly coordinating with outside groups. Mr. Bell’s reported statements and actions call into question his conduct, judgment, and ability to meet professional standards of impartiality and fairness.”
The Select Panel began as a result of fraudulent videos created by anti-abortion extremist David Daleiden and his organization the ‘Center for Medical Progress’. It was long suspected by Democrats on the Panel that the Majority staff and Members were in communication with Mr. Daleiden during the course of the investigation. These concerns were voiced in a letter to Select Panel Chairman Marsha Blackburn, which went unanswered. However, as the Democratic Members stated in their letter today.
“[D]uring a discussion at the Law of Life Summit held in January 2017, Mr. Bell allegedly stated that the Panel Republican’s investigation relied on ‘lots of phone calls with David Daleiden,’ and also noted that he spoke with Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics during the Select Panel’s investigation. Mr. Newman and Mr. Crutcher are well known anti-abortion advocates who worked closely with Mr. Daleiden to release the fraudulent videos.”
Mr. Daleiden is currently under criminal indictment in the state of California. The Members closed their letter today with a stern request for newly-minted HHS Secretary Alex Azar:
“Given the ethical questions surrounding Mr. Bell’s conduct and actions during the Select Panel’s investigation, we respectfully request that, at the very least, Mr. Bell be recused from any case pending before OCR pertaining to fetal tissue or abortion services. It is clear that Mr. Bell is not an impartial investigator on those topics, and we do not believe he can be trusted to fairly adjudicate any related cases.”
Following the resignation of Centers for Disease Control Director Brenda Fitzgerald over a clear conflict of interest, the Members are hopeful that Secretary Azar will handle this issue swiftly and with the seriousness it deserves. The full text of the letter can be found here.