Michael Quinn-Sullivan told the new state GOP Caucus chair he has turned over to the Texas Rangers a recording of his June 12 meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen that has roiled state Republican politics this summer.
The tape, the only known documenting of the meeting, is likely to provide a key for the Rangers to determine whether Bonnen broke the law by allegedly offering House press credentials to Sullivan in exchange for work in defeating 10 incumbent Republican House members considered disloyal to Bonnen.
Media credentials offered in exchange for a personal benefit is a violation of the abuse of office chapter in the Texas Penal Code. As the Texas Monitor reported earlier this month, three attorneys familiar with the code said Bonnen may have broken the law.
Bonnen, who has twice apologized to House members for agreeing to the meeting, has not explicitly denied making the offer to Sullivan. State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, whose part in the meeting resulted in his resigning as GOP Caucus chair Aug. 16, has also not confirmed Sullivan’s account of a deal being offered by Bonnen.
The Texas Democratic Party and state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, have sued Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows for convening a private meeting that the suit says constituted an illegal political campaign committee. The suit alleges the trio violated a variety of state election laws.
The Texas House General Investigating Committee, after a discussion in closed session Aug. 12, turned over the investigation to the Texas Rangers.
Sullivan has so far resisted calls from top Republicans like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to make the recording public. Instead, he has invited key House Republicans, some of them supported by Sullivan’s conservative activist group, Empower Texans, to listen to the recording.
On Tuesday, Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, who replaced Burrows as GOP caucus chair, and the other members of the caucus executive committee — Craig Goldman of Fort Worth, Dan Huberty of Humble, and Scott Sanford of McKinney — issued a statement on Klick’s Twitter account.
“We call for the complete and unedited public release of the secretly recorded conversation between Speaker Bonnen, Representative Burrows and Michael Quinn Sullivan,” they wrote.
In an email to Klick, obtained by The Texas Monitor, Sullivan said he has made the recording available to every member of the Republican caucus who expressed an interest in hearing it. “I note you have not done so,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he provided the recording to the Texas Rangers at their request as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. It isn’t necessary for the public to hear the recording at this time, he told Klick.
“I have done my part,” Sullivan wrote. “The burden now is on members of the caucus, who should compel Speaker Bonnen to retract his false claims against me, a private citizen, invited into a meeting he constructed to offer a quid pro quo deal I did not invite or want.
“I will continue to rely on the recording to defend myself against the continuing lies by Mr. Bonnen and Mr. Burrows about the purpose for, and statements made in, the meeting,” Sullivan said. “I am owed a retraction of all the false claims made by Mr. Bonnen and Mr. Burrows.”
Much of the fallout has come within the ranks of House Republicans, who appeared to have completed a successful legislative session, one without the intra-party controversies that dominated the tenure of former Speaker Joe Straus.
Sullivan, for years a bitter opponent of Straus, was among the few who criticized Bonnen for making concessions to Democrats, particularly on the major issues of school finance and tax reform.
After Sullivan divulged that he had recorded the meeting and after several people listened to it, Bonnen released a letter of apology. The letter focused on his poor judgment for taking the meeting, not on any offer of House floor press credentials in exchange for campaign work against what Sullivan said was a hit list of House Republicans. The list included three of Bonnen’s rivals for House speaker.
Burrows kept a promise to Bonnen that he would not discuss the meeting until after he resigned as caucus chairman. On KFYO radio in Lubbock last week, Burrows told talk show host Chad Hasty he was pleased the entire matter had been turned over to “the premier law enforcement agency in the State of Texas, maybe even the United States.”
“I believe they’re going to come back and say exactly what I believe, which is nothing illegal happened in that meeting,” Burrows told Hasty.
Burrows also contradicted Sullivan’s account of a hit list, saying Bonnen and Burrows asked Sullivan not to go after Republicans in the next primary, something Empower Texans has done when it deemed that incumbents were not conservative enough.
Sullivan responded a couple of days later by saying the recording told a different story. He quoted Bonnen as saying:
“And let’s go after these Republicans that – and I’m not kidding when it comes to 2020, if we’re successful and we gain maybe one or two or three Republican seats, we beat some of these liberal pieces of s—t, and we maybe flip a couple of these primaries, better Rs, kick my ass if we’re not doing a better job.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].