The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers investigate House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants following a secretly recorded meeting with a hardline conservative group.
The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.
Among that list of 10 political targets were state Reps. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Trent Ashby of Lufkin. Sullivan, who met with Bonnen and Burrows at the Texas Capitol in June, publicized his allegations against the two Republicans over two weeks ago — and later revealed he had secretly recorded the meeting.
Since Sullivan made the allegations, Bonnen has forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s account of that June 12 meeting and has called on him to release the full audio. Burrows has not publicly weighed in.
Clardy and other lawmakers who have listened to the tape say it is consistent with what Sullivan alleges.
The state agency said in an email Monday that it was looking into The Texas Tribune’s inquiry about whether the Texas Rangers planned to open an investigation into the matter.
A spokesperson for Bonnen, meanwhile, said the speaker “fully supports the committee’s decision and has complete faith in the House rules and committee process working as they are intended.”
State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.
“There are things that we cannot abide,” Clardy previously told The Daily Sentinel. “The allegations that were made were serious and in my opinion must be addressed.”
The Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit has jurisdiction over investigating alleged crimes by state officers and state employees. The unit was created in 2015 after the Texas Legislature passed a measure creating it as a branch within the Texas Rangers, which operates under the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Meyer closed the meeting by saying that “any investigation should follow the facts and the evidence without regard to political consideration.”
Last week, state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House General Investigating Committee, had sent a letter to Meyer requesting an investigation into allegations made against the speaker and Burrows. Meyer responded later that afternoon, saying that he had recently “initiated internal discussion” with committee staff about the procedure for launching an investigation.
Two House members who do not serve on the committee, Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Richard Peña Raymond of Laredo, both Democrats, were at Monday’s hearing. The former, a freshman, was allegedly disparaged at the June 12 meeting, according to multiple people who have listened to the recording. And the latter called last week on Meyer to hold a public hearing in the name of transparency.
Beckley said in a statement after the hearing that, though it was “initially disappointing” to see the committee enter a closed-door session, she stood by its decision to ask the Texas Rangers to investigate the matter.
In addition to potential legal action, the tape could have political consequences. Texas Republican Caucus rules prevent members from campaigning against incumbents. Both Burrows and Bonnen had previously supported the rule.
The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.