Panel asks Texas Rangers to in­ves­ti­gate meet­ing

Law­mak­ers seek re­port about Sul­li­van, Bon­nen al­le­ga­tions

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By JAMES BARRAGÁN Staff Writer jbar­ra­[email protected]­las­

AUSTIN — A panel of state law­mak­ers on Mon­day asked the Texas Rangers to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of im­pro­pri­ety dur­ing a June 12 meet­ing be­tween House Speaker Dennis Bon­nen, Repub­li­can Cau­cus Chair­man Dustin Bur­rows and con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist Michael Quinn Sul­li­van.

That meet­ing has mired Bon­nen, Bur­rows and the en­tire Repub­li­can Party in con­tro­versy af­ter Sul­li­van al­leged he was of­fered a quid pro quo dur­ing the ren­dezvous. In late July, Sul­li­van wrote in a blog post that Bon­nen of­fered writ­ers for his web­site, Texas Score­card, me­dia cre­den­tials in the next leg­isla­tive

ses­sion. The cre­den­tials would be awarded if his af­fil­i­ated po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, Em­power Tex­ans, re­frained from crit­i­ciz­ing the ses­sion, did not spend money on some Repub­li­can in­cum­bents and went af­ter a group of 10 GOP in­cum­bents, Sul­li­van wrote.

The al­le­ga­tion that Bon­nen tar­geted 10 fel­low Repub­li­cans went di­rectly against a pro­nounce­ment he made at the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that any in­cum­bent who cam­paigned against an­other sit­ting mem­ber of the House would be pun­ished. Bon­nen de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and said he asked Bur­rows, who has yet to pub­licly com­ment on the mat­ter, to stay quiet.

Unan­i­mous vote

By a unan­i­mous vote, the com­mit­tee re­ferred the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the Texas Rangers’ Pub­lic In­tegrity Unit and asked the in­ves­tiga­tive unit to present their find­ings to the com­mit­tee, which is made up of three Repub­li­cans and two Democrats.

“The mo­tion re­quests the Texas Rangers Pub­lic In­tegrity Unit to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der its statu­tory author­ity,” said the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Repub­li­can Mor­gan Meyer of Dal­las. “The chair and mem­bers of this com­mit­tee agree that it is the com­mit­tee’s in­ten­tion in adopt­ing the mo­tion that any in­ves­ti­ga­tion should fol­low the facts and the ev­i­dence with­out re­gard to po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.”

“The com­mit­tee’s request for a re­port back to it at the con­clu­sion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is in ad­di­tion to and not in lieu of any other re­ports or re­fer­rals the Rangers are re­quired by law to make,” he said.

In a state­ment from his com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, Bon­nen said he sup­ports the de­ci­sion to bring in the Rangers and that he has faith in the com­mit­tee process.

“Speaker Bon­nen fully sup­ports the com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion and has full faith in the House Rules and com­mit­tee process work­ing as they are in­tended,” said Cait Meisen­heimer, a Bon­nen spokes­woman.

Bur­rows did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a request for com­ment. Nei­ther did Sul­li­van.

The Texas Rangers is­sued a state­ment say­ing that based on the request of the com­mit­tee, they are con­duct­ing an ini­tial in­quiry into this mat­ter and will con­sult with the ap­pro­pri­ate pros­e­cu­tor.

Sul­li­van has re­vealed he se­cretly recorded the meet­ing and be­gan shar­ing the record­ing with Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, party lead­ers and con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists. He has not re­leased the record­ing pub­licly, but mul­ti­ple peo­ple who have heard the record­ing say it con­firms Sul­li­van’s ac­count and in­cludes deroga­tory com­ments by Bon­nen about Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

Into ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion

Bon­nen apol­o­gized for those com­ments last Tues­day, but a day later Fort Worth Demo­crat Nicole Col­lier called on the House Gen­eral In­ves­ti­gat­ing Com­mit­tee to look into the mat­ter. Meyer, the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, agreed to a meet­ing “with the in­ten­tion of launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The com­mit­tee meet­ing on Mon­day went into ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion less than two min­utes af­ter it be­gan, tak­ing law­mak­ers away from pub­lic view, though some leg­is­la­tors, like Rep. Richard Raymond Peña, a Demo­crat from Laredo, had called for it to be held en­tirely in pub­lic.

Only mem­bers of the com­mit­tee were al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate even though Reps. Michelle Beck­ley, a Car­roll­ton Demo­crat who al­legedly was in­sulted by Bon­nen at the meet­ing, and Raymond, were in the room for the hear­ing.

Raymond called tak­ing the meet­ing away from pub­lic view “a mis­take.”

“Ev­ery­one from the speaker on down has asked for all this to be open,” he said. “I guess Mor­gan Meyer doesn’t agree with that.”

“This is an im­por­tant is­sue,” he added. “[It’s] clearly a dis­trac­tion for ev­ery­body and to go be­hind closed doors at a time when we all agree we need to move to­ward find out what hap­pened.”

Af­ter re­turn­ing from the closed­door por­tion of the meet­ing, Meyer said no de­ci­sions were made in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

Some had raised con­cerns about the com­mit­tee’s im­par­tial­ity. Meyer, the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, was pro­moted to that post and re­ceived a dona­tion of nearly $20,000 in inkind do­na­tions for polling. Rep. Matt Krause, R­fort Worth, also re­ceived the same in­kind polling dona­tion from Bon­nen.

“In­tegrity is ob­vi­ously com­pro­mised when Chair­man Meyer’s sin­gle largest con­trib­u­tor this cy­cle is the sub­ject of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion he is sup­posed to over­see,” Joanna Cat­tanach, a Demo­crat who is run­ning to un­seat Meyer, told Quo­rum Re­port. “This is a clear con­flict of in­ter­est.”

Beck­ley also called for Meyer and Krause to re­cuse them­selves from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Non-par­ti­san in­quiry

But af­ter the meet­ing she said she agreed with the com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to re­fer the case to the Texas Rangers.

“I hope the record­ing of this meet­ing is re­leased so all those af­fected, in­clud­ing my­self, can un­der­stand ex­actly what was said in this meet­ing,” she said in a state­ment. “I urge the Texas Rangers to con­duct a speedy, non­par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tion and to re­lease a com­pre­hen­sive fi­nal re­port to the pub­lic.”

Col­lier, the vice chair­woman of the com­mit­tee, re­leased a pre­pared joint state­ment with Meyer fol­low­ing the hear­ing.

“Our com­mit­tee unan­i­mously agreed that the ap­pro­pri­ate en­tity to in­ves­ti­gate this mat­ter is the Texas Rangers,” Col­lier said. “We have full con­fi­dence in the Texas Rangers to move for­ward with ex­treme care and de­lib­er­ate­ness.”

Meyer said: “The cit­i­zens of Texas de­serve a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion by ex­pe­ri­enced law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion­als — free of pol­i­tics — to de­ter­mine if there was any wrong­do­ing. They de­serve trans­parency, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and swift ac­tion and our bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee has unan­i­mously agreed that the Texas Rangers are the right law en­force­ment agency to in­ves­ti­gate.”

The Ranger in­ves­ti­ga­tion would likely force the re­lease of Sul­li­van’s se­cret record­ing. But that’s not the only in­ves­ti­ga­tion prod­ded by the June meet­ing.

At least two of the law­mak­ers al­legedly tar­geted by Bon­nen and Bur­rows, Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Steve Al­li­son of San An­to­nio, have called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the House Repub­li­can Cau­cus. The Texas Demo­cratic Party has sued over the meet­ing al­leg­ing a slew of elec­tion law vi­o­la­tions and have asked the court to pro­duce the record­ing.




Nick Wag­ner/austin Amer­i­can­states­man

Dal­las Repub­li­can Mor­gan Meyer, chair­man of the House Gen­eral In­ves­ti­gat­ing Com­mit­tee, spoke at a hear­ing at the Texas State Capi­tol on Mon­day.

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