The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.
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.
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 then, Bonnen has forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s account of that June 12 meeting and has called on Sullivan to release the full audio. Burrows has not publicly weighed in. Other Republicans who have listened to the recording have said it largely confirms Sullivan's allegations against Bonnen and Burrows.
The state agency said in an email Monday evening that the Texas Rangers "are conducting an initial inquiry" into the matter and planned to consult with a prosecuting attorney. According to the state's Government Code, if an initial inquiry demonstrates there's "reasonable suspicion" that an offense occurred, the matter would then get handed off to a prosecuting attorney. The Texas Rangers, if requested by that attorney, would then help with the investigation.
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 of 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.
A spokesperson for Bonnen 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."
Sullivan, meanwhile, said in a statement and on Twitter that he was happy the committee "appears to be searching for the truth." He added, "It is abundantly obvious my decision to record our meeting was the correct one. I remain hopeful Mr. Bonnen will recant his false claims about me and the facts surrounding our meeting."
The Texas Rangers' Public Integrity Unit has jurisdiction over investigating alleged crimes by state officers and state employees. The Texas Legislature passed a measure to create the unit in 2015 as a branch within the Texas Rangers, which operate 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, 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 on Meyer last week to hold a public hearing in the name of transparency.
Beckley said in a statement after the hearing that although 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.