The Texas House General Investigating Committee on Monday morning asked the Texas Rangers to investigate a June 12 meeting between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and two others that has raised questions about whether any state laws were broken.
The committee, which has its own investigating authority, called no witnesses and allowed no public discussion before asking the Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit to investigate the meeting and return to the committee with a report.
In a brief statement after the committee met for about 45 minutes in closed session, chairman Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, said the investigation would follow the facts and circumstances of the meeting “without political consideration.” He did not detail the boundaries of the investigation, nor did he provide a deadline for its completion.
Requests made by The Texas Monitor to the Investigating Committee office and the Texas Rangers for answers to those questions and others were not returned before this story was posted.
The meeting between Bonnen, GOP Caucus chair Dustin Burrows and conservative political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, described in wildly differing ways by Bonnen and Sullivan, has been a Republican shrapnel blast in the middle of the post-legislative session summer.
Revelations from a selective airing of a recording of the meeting, made in secret by Sullivan, have stung Republicans and Democrats statewide. But the question of whether crimes were committed by any of the participants, particularly by the until-now popular speaker of the House, will likely be the focus of the Texas Rangers inquiry.
As first reported by The Texas Monitor nearly two weeks ago, Sullivan has contended that Bonnen offered credentials for his group, Empower Texans, to report from the House floor in the next session in exchange for efforts by Sullivan’s group to unseat 10 incumbent House Republicans.
Everyone who has commented after listening to the recording has confirmed Sullivan’s account of Bonnen’s offer. Bonnen has so far not directly addressed it.
Several legal authorities have told The Texas Monitor the credentials could be considered public property and that in offering them to Sullivan in exchange for something of personal benefit, Bonnen might be in violation of the abuse of office chapter in the Texas Penal Code.
A lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party last week suggests that several other misdemeanor violations of the Texas Election Code may have been committed during the meeting. The lawsuit contends that in discussing a deal to work against elected officials, Bonnen, Burrows, and Sullivan were, in effect, an illegal campaign committee.
The suit, however, names Sullivan and an “Unknown Named Political Committee” — not Bonnen and Burrows — as defendants.
“I am curious … @TexasDemocrats are suing ME over a meeting to which #TxLege Speaker @RepDennisBonnen invited me with him & @TXGOPCaucus Chair @Burrows4TX,” Sullivan tweeted on Friday. “But the DEMs are specifically NOT suing Bonnen and Burrows. Is that more incompetence … or more collusion?”
Sullivan has insisted since July 25, when he published his account of the meeting, that it was Bonnen and Burrows making offers to him. Sullivan, according to accounts of the recording, agreed to nothing.
After Bonnen sent an email letter to House members denying that he and Burrows provided a hit list of incumbents, Sullivan revealed that he had recorded the meeting and began inviting political allies to listen to it.
In addition, Sullivan allowed two legislators allegedly on Bonnen’s hit list — Republican state representatives Steven Allison of San Antonio and Tan Parker of Flower Mound — to hear the recording. Both legislators denounced Bonnen for the hit list, the deal making, and derogatory and vulgar remarks he made about several House members. Parker was one of Bonnen’s rivals for the House speaker job last year.
Since issuing a second apology to House members, Bonnen has been silent about the matter. Burrows has abided by Bonnen’s request and has not commented on the meeting.
Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, vice-chair of the Investigative Committee, asked Meyer to schedule Monday’s public hearing. All five committee members — including Matt Krause, R-Arlington; Candy Noble, R-Allen; and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio — are Bonnen appointees.
The Dennis Bonnen Campaign contributed $19,890 in in-kind donations for polling for the Meyer and Krause campaigns, according to the last campaign finance reports filed in June with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The committee could have subpoenaed people to appear on Monday but chose not to. Michele Beckley, D-Carrollton, who has not heard the recording but was told that Bonnen disparaged her during the meeting, said in a statement Monday the committee’s private executive session disappointed her.
“However, I stand with the committee’s decision for the Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit to complete a full investigation of this matter,” Beckley wrote. “I urge the Texas Rangers to conduct a speedy, nonpartisan investigation and to release a comprehensive final report to the public.”