AP

The Justice Department moved to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal tissue on Thursday—a decision apparently prompted by a widely discredited conspiracy that the organization has sought to profit from selling fetal tissue to medical researchers.

In a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department asked for unredacted documents relating to the Senate’s investigation into Planned Parenthood’s alleged profit from fetal tissue sales.

That investigation was spurred by a series of incendiary videos released by the anti-abortion group Center For Medical Progress which purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing attempts to illegally sell tissue to researchers. The videos were heavily edited and debunked, but the investigation still produced a Senate report, “Human Fetal Tissue Research,” which supposedly details Planned Parenthood’s practices.

When the Senate’s investigation concluded in 2016, Planned Parenthood denied any wrongdoing. “These accusations are baseless, and a part of a widely discredited attempt to end access to reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood,” Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood. “Planned Parenthood has never, and would never, profit while facilitating its patients’ choice to donate fetal tissue for use in important medical research.”

The videos spurred a Republican showdown over federal funding for Planned Parenthood and led to felony charges against James O’Keefe, a notorious right-wing hack who has made a career out of entrapment, for recording people without their permission. But the Senate’s investigation called for the Justice Department to investigate Planned Parenthood—pointing to a law that prohibits the buying and selling of fetal tissue—and that is exactly what the DOJ is now doing.

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“At this point, the [Senate] records are intended for investigative use only,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote. “We understand that a resolution from the Senate may be required if the Department were to use any of the unredacted materials in a formal legal proceeding, such as a grand jury.”