Panel asks Texas Rangers to investigate meeting
Lawmakers seek report about Sullivan, Bonnen allegations
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.
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.
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.
MICHAEL QUINN SULLIVAN
Dallas Republican Morgan Meyer, chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, spoke at a hearing at the Texas State Capitol on Monday.