Democrats: Anti-abortion group helped draft HHS letter

Letter rescinded Planned Parenthood policy

(CNN) - House Democrats say a whistleblower inside the Department of Health and Human Services told them that the Trump administration relied on a right-wing anti-abortion rights group to draft the letter it sent to states reversing Obama-era guidance that it's against the law to terminate Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is now asking that all communications between the department and the group, Alliance Defending Freedom, are made available by February 26.

Cummings, in his request to deputy HHS secretary Eric Hargan, says that a whistleblower provided emails and a draft letter from the days leading up to the Trump guidance that was sent to states January 19. The letter was sent to state Medicaid directors, and it rescinds a 2016 letter from former President Barack Obama reminding states that it's against the law to terminate providers without proper cause. Cummings did not identify the whistleblower.

The Trump letter coincided with the March for Life rally in Washington.

"The documents provided by the whistleblower raise serious concerns about whether the Trump administration is now taking orders from an extreme right-wing interest group that is trying to deny American citizens the ability to exercise their right to obtain family planning services from the provider of their choice, which is guaranteed by federal statute," Cummings said in his letter to the department.

Eight days before the rally, acting HHS chief of staff, Kristin Skrzycki wrote an email to Brady Brookes, the deputy chief of staff at Medicare and Medicaid, saying the letter was coming that day.

"Please make sure your clearance process is ready to go on this. We will need a very quick turnaround. Consider an utmost priority," the emails said, according to what was provided to Cummings office and shared with media.

Later that day, the department's deputy general counsel Kemlly Cleary sent an email with a draft letter attached. Cummings wrote that the draft can be tracked to the former senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Casey Mattox.

"The metadata for the draft letter identifies Casey Mattox as the author and Alliance Defending Freedom as the company that created the document," Cummings wrote.

The Alliance Defending Freedom responded Monday saying Cummings' statements were "misleading" and that the department's guidance "brings the agency back into conformity with decades of federal court precedent and empowers state legislatures to allocate Medicaid funding to women's health providers not entangled in alleged fraud and abuse."

"It is common practice for constitutional attorneys to be consulted regarding constitutional matters," the group said in a statement. "What should also be common practice is refusing to award Americans' hard earned tax dollars to scandal-ridden Medicaid provider."

CNN has reached out to Health and Human Services and Mattox for comment but has not heard back.

The Alliance Defending Freedom calls itself a conservative Christian nonprofit organization that advocates and funds on the issues of "religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family." But the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a hate group for its attacks on LGBT rights.

Two states, Arkansas and Louisiana, are attempting to terminate Planned Parenthood from Medicaid based on a series of videos that are widely considered to be misleading and doctored, released by an activist, David Daleiden.

"Our committee concluded on a bipartisan basis that his allegations were completely false, yet some states continue to cite them as a rationale for continuing to target Planned Parenthood to this day," Cummings wrote in his letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. "In addition, the documents raise grave questions about the legitimacy of the Trump administration's letter to state Medicaid directors on January 19, which appears to be a clandestine effort to tip the scales of justice in favor of states that are targeting Planned Parenthood in violation of federal law."

The original draft from the Alliance Defending Freedom included language that was later cut from the final letter that went to states, Cummings said, "However, it achieved the same result --- it rescinded the 2016 letter to try to limit protections for Medicaid beneficiaries seeking access to family planning services."

This story has been updated to include a statement from Alliance Defending Freedom.

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