Michael Quinn Sullivan released the audio he secretly recorded during a June meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen in which Bonnen implies he’d like Sullivan to target House members in the primary election, including Republican colleagues.
Also in the recording, Bonnen said could offer Sullivan’s “guys” — referring to Texas Scorecard, the conservative information service affiliated with the Sullivan-led Empower Texans — House floor media access during the next legislative session.
In a statement Tuesday morning from Bonnen, the speaker says the release of the recording proves no laws were broken and can let the House “finally move on.”
“I have repeatedly called for the recording to be released because it will be immediately clear that no laws were broken,” Bonnen said in the statement. “This was nothing more than a political discussion — the problem is that I had it with that guy.”
Sullivan released the audio on The Chris Salcedo WBAP radio show on Tuesday morning, where he was scheduled to make an appearance.
About nine minutes into the tape of the meeting, where Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, was also present, Bonnen said, “I’m trying to win in 2020, in November.”
Sullivan has said for months Bonnen and Burrows provided him with a list of 10 sitting House Republicans to target in the primary. The discussion was couched around being able to satisfy Sullivan’s desire to pass a bill prohibiting taxpayer-funding lobbying by local governments, a bill that failed to gain traction in the last session.
“The problem I’m gonna have is that either way, whether we lose a few seats, or we gain a few seats or we just stay stagnant, if I still have the same 10 moderate Republicans who don’t want to help on anything, I’m still unable to do what you and I would want done,” Bonnen said in the recording.
Bonnen continues that instead of wasting money and energy against each other, they should focus on holding the Republican majority in 2020.
“Even help us out and you kill off one or two or three of them who are never gonna help,” Bonnen said to Sullivan in the recording.
Minutes later, Bonnen said he will do something for Sullivan, to which Sullivan replied that he doesn’t “need” anything.
“We can make this work,” Bonnen said. “I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”
“Or take them all off,” Sullivan said.
After an August request from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit is continuing an investigation of the meeting.
The public integrity unit may investigate whether a person has committed an offense against public administration upon a formal or informal complaint or on request of a prosecuting attorney or law enforcement agency, according to the Texas Government Code.
Possible offenses against public administration include bribery, improper influence, obstruction and retaliation.
Yenne declined to comment on the recording, citing the “ongoing, pending” investigation.
Ranger Brad Weatherford interviewed Bonnen on Sept. 6, according to documents Bonnen’s attorney, Brian Roark, provided to The Facts.
“Since you’ve listened to the tape yourself, you know that there was not a violation of the bribery statute intended, accomplished or even attempted,” Roark wrote in the letter to Weatherford. “There were no violations of the election code, campaign statutes, House rules or any other law related to Speaker Bonnen’s Office.”
There was no misuse of government property, the letter states, and elected officials can speak about state business or personal matters within the confines of their office.
Brazoria County GOP Chair Shayne Green is happy the recording is now public so “we can review it and decide for ourselves,” he said. He planned to do that Tuesday evening, he said, noting the Rangers and Yenne will decide whether there was any wrongdoing.
“It’s up to her and the Rangers to do their job, it’s really not up to me to make that decision,” Green said.
Roark is confident no laws were broken, he said to The Facts by phone Tuesday. He expects the Rangers to have their investigation finished this week, but said he does not know how long Yenne will take to reach a conclusion.
“Quid pro quo, something for something else,” is a oft-used phrase, but unless there is a personal, pecuniary gain, it’s not illegal, Roark said.
“It turns out there’s just nothing illegal about that,” he said.
County Judge Matt Sebesta said he doesn’t care for the fact a private conversation was secretly recorded and does not plan to listen to it.
Bonnen covered several political topics in the hour-and-42-minute recording, including that he had some negative intentions for the last session.
“In this office, and in the conference room on that end, any mayor, county judge that is dumb (expletive) enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, ‘My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the Legislature for cities and counties,’” Bonnen said in the recording.
He also referred to some House Democrats as vile, a piece of (expletive) and secretly gay.
This was not a good session for cities and counties, Sebesta said.
“It was not, which is a shame because we are the state’s partner in delivering services to our shared constituency,” Sebesta said.
However, Sebesta said the recording will not change his opinion of Bonnen.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, shared a similar sentiment in an emailed statement.
“Speaker Bonnen and I have worked successfully in the past on major issues benefiting our constituents and the State of Texas,” Huffman said in the statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Speaker in the future, as I know he is an effective leader and has the best interests of all Texans at heart.”
A representative for Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he typically does not comment on matters of this nature and did not return a request for comment. Messages left with the offices of Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, were not returned.
“My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides, and with clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on,” Bonnen said in his morning statement.