AUSTIN (KXAN / Texas Tribune) — The Texas Rangers will investigate a controversial meeting between Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen and Michael Quinn Sullivan, the leader of the political non-profit Empower Texans. The Texas House General Investigating Committee made the motion Monday morning.
The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel, three Republicans and two Democrats. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.
“Any investigation should follow the facts and the evidence without regard to political considerations,” said Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, chair of the House Committee on General Investigations from the dais.
Sullivan, who met with Bonnen and Burrows at the Texas Capitol in June, publicized his allegations against the two Republicans over two weeks ago. Since then, Bonnen has forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s account of that June 12 meeting. Burrows has not publicly weighed in.
Sullivan secretly recorded the meeting and has since let Republican lawmakers and political operatives listen to it. Nearly all of the people who listened to the recording say Sullivan’s version of the meeting is accurate, KXAN sources say.
Last week, Bonnen issued an apology to Texas House members for “terrible things” he said on the secret recording. The Speaker has also called for Sullivan to release the audio publically.
The Texas Rangers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.
If they find evidence of criminal activity in their investigation, the Texas Rangers could refer charges for prosecution.
Speaker Bonnen’s spokeswoman Cait Meisenheimer tells KXAN the Speaker “fully supports the committee’s decision and has complete faith in the House Rules and committee process working as they are intended.”
Taking out politics?
The move to let the Texas Rangers investigate is an attempt to take this issue out of the realm of politics. Some lawmakers said they were suspicious of the committee itself.
“This public meeting was supposed to be about transparency but two minutes in and now they’re in the back room again and I am concerned about the backroom deals,” said Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton.
She was mentioned in the recording by Bonnen – according to multiple sources and fellow lawmakers who’ve heard it. Bonnen is accused of saying homophobic and demeaning statements about fellow members.
Beckley has concerns about the House Committee because its chair, Rep. Meyer, received $20,000 of in-kind contributions for polling from Dennis Bonnen, the Speaker he would be investigating.
“I was hoping to see more than we just saw right now. So at this time, we will see,” said Rep. Beckley.
The Texas Rangers have only been in charge of investigating allegations against public officials for a few years. Those investigations used to be handled by the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. That’s because the capitol is in Travis County. In 2013- Governor Rick Perry vetoed money to fund that unit. He was indicted on charges that he abused his office after that. The state’s highest criminal court- dismissed the charges.
The Rangers will deliver the findings of their investigation to the committee and the home county of that elected official, in this case- it would be Brazoria County.