Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's office was intimately involved in Planned Parenthood investigation

TALLAHASSEE — When state health officials released the results of an investigation into Planned Parenthood clinics last month, Gov. Rick Scott's office was whispering in their ears.

Aides to the governor were intimately involved in crafting the message when the agency announced allegations that three Florida Planned Parenthood clinics had violated their licenses. Nearly every on-the-record statement given by the Agency for Health Care Administration to reporters and the public was first approved by a member of Scott's communications team, emails obtained by the Times/Herald show.

Scott's staff rewrote press releases about the investigation and penned some statements that were attributed to AHCA executives. His office even directed the health care agency to cut a sentence in a draft press release that acknowledged the main reason the investigation fell short: Inspectors found no evidence that Florida Planned Parenthood clinics broke the law by operating a fetal tissue donation program.

After results of the investigation were made public, the emails show, Scott's staff continued its involvement by orchestrating attempts by AHCA staffers to persuade reporters to change parts of their stories.

Politico first reported the involvement of the governor's office in a story last week. Scott's office wasn't involved in investigating Planned Parenthood beyond the public statements, AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said.

However, Scott has been closely tied to the investigation from the start. He publicly ordered the investigations in late July after videos went viral online that appeared to show Planned Parenthood employees in other states discussing fetal organ donation.

Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said she's concerned about Scott's behind-the-scenes involvement.

"Florida deserves to have elected officials who care about their citizens and who don't use politics to get in the way of the best possible scenarios for the citizens," Zdravecky said of access to women's health care.

The intervention of Scott's office was perhaps most direct — and controversial — in describing the results of the investigation to the public.

After inspections turned up no evidence of a fetal organ donation program involving Florida clinics, AHCA drafted a statement that said, "there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains." But that sentence was removed after it was sent to Jackie Schutz, Scott's communications director, for approval.

The omission was met with displeasure and confusion from high-level staff inside AHCA. Emails from Deputy Secretary Molly McKinstry and communications director Katherine Riviere show they didn't agree with the decision.

"I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that's what questions will be on," Riviere wrote.

An email from AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek says that she thought the scrubbed statement from Scott's office "is what they will okay."

Throughout the investigation — from Scott's announcement of it July 29 through a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood on Aug. 17 — public statements made by AHCA were subject to approval from Schutz. Emails show statements were "run by downtown" or "discussed with EOG," the Executive Office of the Governor.

Neither the governor's office nor AHCA would discuss their email exchanges in detail.

"Our office often works with our agencies on materials," Schutz said in a statement Wednesday. She wouldn't elaborate or discuss whether this level of involvement in agency operations is common.

For its part, AHCA responded to Times/Herald questions Wednesday with a similarly-phrased statement: "We often work with the Governor's Office on materials."

AHCA said its inspections found that clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers were performing abortions in the second trimester but were only licensed for first-trimester procedures. Planned Parenthood denies the allegations, saying that those clinics have only conducted abortions through the first trimester, or the 14th week after a woman's last menstrual period — the commonly accepted way to measure the length of a pregnancy. Furthermore, they say they haven't changed how they reported those procedures to the state.

On Aug. 17, an "agency statement" from AHCA attributed to Riviere challenged Planned Parenthood further, saying the organization "self-reported that they were performing unauthorized abortions." Emails show that this statement was actually written by John Tupps, the governor's deputy communications director.

After the Times/Herald decided not to publish that portion of the statement and instead to write that the state and Planned Parenthood disagreed over the claim, the governor's staff instructed AHCA that the "whole statement" about self-reporting unauthorized abortions should be included. Three minutes later, Riviere sent an email to reporters to ask that the story be changed.

Scott, like some other Republican governors, has repeatedly questioned Planned Parenthood's operation since the controversial videos went viral in July.

"I can only speculate on what the motivation might be," Zdravecky said. "There does seem to be some pattern here across the country, particularly with Republican governors rising to the challenge to target Planned Parenthood."

Asked last month why his administration is keen on investigating Planned Parenthood for practices the organization says it has not changed in at least nine years, the pro-life governor pointed immediately to those videos.

"As anybody that saw those videos regarding Planned Parenthood, it was very disturbing and troubling," he said. "So, we did the right thing, we said we're going to make sure that the Planned Parenthood facilities in Florida are compliant with the law, so AHCA went in to do that."

Times/Herald staff writers Daniel Chang and Michael Majchrowicz contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.

Comments
Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

During the summer of 2012, Cody Wilson hung around J&J, a car-repair shop run by two "goofy" guys in their late 20s. The Austin warehouse was crowded with engine blocks, car parts and Pelican boxes that never seemed to have been opened, but the 24-ye...
Updated: 6 hours ago
‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

WASHINGTON - For nearly five years, the young Russian political-science student was an unusual fixture at the most important events of the U.S. conservative movement.Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent,...
Updated: 7 hours ago
PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin made inaccurate statements to the media following their one-on-one talks in Helsinki about election meddling, global terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation.Here’s a rundown of our fact-checks.Trump:...
Published: 07/17/18
Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

JOHANNESBURG — Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday took aim at "strongman politics" in his highest-profile speech since leaving office, urging people around the world to respect human rights and other values now under threat in an imp...
Published: 07/17/18
Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Hypocrisy, thy name is Rick Scott.And, yes, I owe Shakespeare an apology.But I think Florida’s governor owes all of us an apology.This isn’t about one man’s opinion, and it isn’t about philosophical differences. This is about a politician who is publ...
Published: 07/17/18
Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

HELSINKI — Standing next to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to Trump’s benefit and seemed to accept Putin’s i...
Published: 07/16/18

Pasco Political Notebook

Hunter, Murphy speak to Democratic ClubThe Trinity Democratic Club will host candidates Chris Hunter (running for U.S. Congress in District 12) and Amanda Murphy (running for state Senate in District 16) as guest speakers at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. ...
Published: 07/16/18
Giant pork pile awaits Americans as trade wars risk exports

Giant pork pile awaits Americans as trade wars risk exports

Donald Trump’s trade wars are making pork a bargain.American production is poised to reach an all-time high this year, and output is forecast to surge again in 2019. The supply boom comes as tariffs from China and Mexico threaten to curb export deman...
Published: 07/16/18
Sacha Baron Cohen still knows how to punk America, but his new show erodes what little trust we have left

Sacha Baron Cohen still knows how to punk America, but his new show erodes what little trust we have left

Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to incognito trickery is, in current conditions, a little like pouring rubbing alcohol into the nation’s open wounds.Employing the same ingenious commitment and subterfuge that made him famous in the guise of Ali G., Borat ...
Published: 07/15/18
Trump tweets, hits links before high-stakes Putin meeting

Trump tweets, hits links before high-stakes Putin meeting

TURNBERRY, Scotland — Two days before a high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump played golf and tweeted Saturday from one of his namesake resorts, blaming his predecessor for Russian election meddling and lash...
Published: 07/14/18