- A secret recording appears to show Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen offering capitol press credentials to a conservative group, in exchange for attacking certain Republicans.
- Conservative activist Michael Q. Sullivan released the recording Tuesday.
- Sullivan said Bonnen, a Republican, might have broken the law with the quid pro quo offer.
- Bonnen also said that President Trump “is killing us in urban-suburban districts.”
Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen offered to secure House press passes for a conservative critic in exchange for targeting certain Republicans, and not others, ahead of the 2020 elections, according to a secret recording released Tuesday.
Michael Q. Sullivan, the head of the grassroots conservative nonprofit Empower Texans, released the recording at the behest of top Republican officials in the state. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for example, urged Sullivan to “release the tape” and accused him of “destroying our party.”
The June meeting has roiled state politics since Sullivan went public with a July 25 article detailing Bonnen’s offer. Sullivan revealed the recording’s existence six days later, after Bonnen, a Republican, said Sullivan’s account was false. The Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into the meeting, following a request from lawmakers.
The recording supports Sullivan’s account, showing Bonnen noting “10 moderate Republicans” that he would like to see Sullivan’s group attack ahead of the 2020 primaries and general election.
“And let me tell you what I’ll do for you — real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you,” Bonnen said.
“I don’t need anything done,” Sullivan replied.
“Well, no, you do. You do,” Bonnen insisted. “If we can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session,” Bonnen continued, referring to Empower Texans’ media arm, Texas Scorecard, which has been critical of Bonnen in the past. The Scorecard’s writers have yet to gain press credentials for the House floor, on account of their parent organization’s partisan status.
After Bonnen left the meeting, Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows provided Sullivan with a list of specific Republicans to attack, the recording indicates.
In an article accompanying the recording’s release, Sullivan wrote that he feared the meeting placed him in “legal jeopardy” because “Bonnen combined two actions in a way I believe was intentional. First, he offered an official act: granting media credentials for Texas Scorecard reporters that he and his leadership team have so far denied. In exchange, he requested I take actions benefiting him directly.”
Sullivan told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a text message that he hopes Republican leaders “have a very open and honest discussion about the expectations for legislative leadership.”
“Citizens should demand less variance between what lawmakers claim in public and do behind closed doors. Republicans should put an end too the back-scratching crony culture that pervades Austin politics once and for all,” Sullivan added.
Bonnen said in a statement that the recording makes it “immediately clear that no laws were broken. This was nothing more than a political discussion — the problem is I had it with that guy.” (RELATED: Inside Beto’s Million-Dollar Apartment Deal With Campaign Donor)
Burrows said in a statement to the DCNF that he’s glad the recording is public and now plans to focus “on what is important: passing conservative legislation for future generations and the needs of West Texans.”
The recording also indicates that Bonnen was concerned about Democrats capitalizing on President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in some parts of the state to flip the Texas Legislature blue. Bonnen said that “with all due respect to Trump, who I love, by the way — he’s killing us in urban-suburban districts.”
Texas Democrats pounced on disparaging remarks that Bonnen made about several of their members in the recording. Bonnen referred to one Democratic legislator as “vile” and said another’s wife is “going to be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.” Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner said Bonnen’s remarks “are incompatible” with him “serving another term as Speaker.”
“It’s a positive thing that the tape has been released because healing can’t begin until the band aid was ripped off,” Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak told the DCNF. “Speaker Bonnen has apologized for his language and for taking the meeting. He has been working to regain the trust of the members. He should not have lied to them twice.”
“It’s going to take time to regain the trust he needs to be an effective Speaker. The next step is completion of the Texas Rangers investigation,” Mackowiak said, emphasizing the need for transparency.
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