Timeline: The Tape That Took Down Dennis Bonnen

June 12, 2019 – The Meeting

A meeting between the following two Republican representatives and a conservative Republican activist took place June 12, 2019 at an office in the Texas Capitol.  

  • Representative Dennis Bonnen: Texas House of Representatives Speaker
  • Representative Dustin Burrows: Chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus
  • Michael Quinn Sullivan: Leader of Empower Texans, a conservative group that has often used their leverage to get Republican challengers to run against incumbents they believe aren’t conservative enough in primary elections. Texas Scorecard is the print and online publication of Empower Texans.
July 25, 2019 – Michael Quinn Sullivan Goes Public

Sullivan published a blog post on Texas Scorecard, detailing his version of the meeting. Sullivan alleges Bonnen made him an offer: If Sullivan agreed to spend his organizations’ money to target a list of 10 current Republican House representatives in their primary elections (in an effort to replace them with “better” Republicans), Texas Scorecard reporters would receive previously denied Texas House media credentials. The alleged list included: 

The List:

Steve Allison Kyle Kacal 

Trent AshbyStan Lambert 

Ernest Bailes Tan Parker 

Travis Clardy John Raney 

Drew Darby Phil Stephenson 

Sullivan claimed Bonnen left the office toward the end of the meeting so Burrows could read the list of names. Sullivan also accused Bonnen of making vulgar comments about a few Democrat House representatives. 

Michael Quinn Sullivan sent a letter to Bonnen and Burrows on June 19, which has not been publicly released (we’ll come back to this). He states in his blog that the letter was to reject their offer. He received this response letter from Bonnen on June 27.

July 26, 2019 – Bonnen’s Letter to House Republicans

Speaker Bonnen sent an email to Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives, offering his version of the story. Bonnen confirmed the meeting took place and explained the events that led to the meeting. He did not directly acknowledge the alleged list Sullivan provided, but he did call Sullivan’s account of the meeting a contrived effort to destroy the Republican majority in the House. 

July 29, 2019 – Bonnen Addresses the Public

Bonnen released a public statement, vehemently denying Sullivan’s accusations. Bonnen said he never provided Sullivan with a list, and once again said Sullivan’s only goal was to cause chaos. Bonnen also said he asked Burrows not to comment on the matter, as Burrows was only there as a witness to the conversation, and the attack was on Bonnen.

July 29, 2019 – Sullivan Pressures Burrows to Come Forward

After Bonnen’s public statement, Sullivan released another blog post on Texas Scorecard. He pressured Burrows, as Bonnen’s professed “witness,” to answer the following questions: 

  1. Does he stand by Bonnen’s misrepresentation of the meeting and its substance?
  2. Did Speaker Bonnen not in the meeting say “he’ll show you the list…”?
  3. Then did Bonnen not leave the room and did Burrows not read a list of Republican targets the two of them hoped Empower Texans’ political action committee would “fund” against?
July 31, 2019 – Sullivan Has a Recording

With no response from Burrows, Sullivan announced he recorded the meeting and threatened to release the recording if Bonnen and Burrows refused to recant their “false claims.” Sullivan said in the meantime he would allow Republicans to listen to the tape. 

July 31, 2019 – Bonnen Says to Release the Tape

Bonnen called for Sullivan to release the recording in its entirety.

July 31, 2019 – Two Lawmakers Listen to the Tape

The same night that Sullivan offered Republicans the chance to listen to the recording, Rep. Travis Clardy—on the alleged list of targets—and Rep. Steve Toth listened and confirmed Sullivan’s claims.

August 6, 2019 – Bonnen Apologizes

After additional lawmakers listened to the tape and confirmed Bonnen did target a list of Republicans and did say vulgar things about his colleagues, Bonnen apologized for saying “terrible things.” Many Representatives took to Twitter, accepting and applauding Bonnen’s apology.

August 7, 2019 – Texas House General Investigating Committee 

The Texas House General Investigating Committee, which holds subpoena power, announced they would review allegations against Bonnen. Rep. Morgan Meyer, chairman of the committee, was named to this position by Bonnen. 

Note: Meyer previously received nearly $20,000 in political contributions from Bonnen. 

August 8, 2019 – Texas Democrats Sue

The Texas Democrats sued Dennis Bonnen and Michael Quinn Sullivan for violating numerous campaign finance and election laws. 

August 12, 2019 – The Hearing

The public part of the hearing actually never happened. Less than two minutes after the session began, the committee went into executive session, meaning only committee members were allowed to participate. After roughly an hour of closed-door deliberation, the committee emerged with a unanimous vote. 

The burden of investigation moved from the House General Investigating Committee to the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit. The Texas Rangers were tasked with conducting an initial inquiry and to consult with a prosecuting attorney. If the Rangers’ findings demonstrated reasonable suspicion that an offense occurred, the prosecuting attorney would lead the case with the help of the Rangers. 

August 27, 2019 – Brazoria County District Attorney Joins Investigation

Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said she requested that the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit investigate Bonnen’s meeting on August 13, one day after the House General Investigating Committee made the same request. Yenne is the top prosecutor for the county of Bonnen’s residence. According to a law passed in 2015, if the Rangers concluded that Bonnen had committed a crime, the investigation would be referred to Yenne for review. 

October 15, 2019 – The Tape is Publicly Released

A 64-minute recording of the June meeting with Bonnen, Burrows, and Sullivan was released on the website of WBAP’s talk radio station. The tape largely confirmed Sullivan’s claims. Bonnen can be heard offering media access to Empower Texans and suggesting they target certain Republicans. Bennen can also be heard calling a House member “vile” and suggesting that another House member’s “wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.” A transcript of the recording was also released. 

October 15, 2019 – Bonnen Claims No Laws Were Broken

An hour after the tape was released, Bonnen’s team issued a statement calling the tape “clear evidence…disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing.”

October 22, 2019 – Bonnen Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election

Dennis Bonnen announced he would not seek re-election.

October 24, 2019 – Bonnen Won’t Face Criminal Prosecution From DA Yenne

After receiving and reviewing the Texas Rangers report, Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne decided not to prosecute Bonnen. “As repugnant as Speaker Bonnen’s actions and statements are, I do not believe there is sufficient evidence from the June 12, 2019 meeting to warrant a criminal prosecution of Speaker Bonnen for Bribery or Solicitation of a Gift by a Public Servant, therefore no criminal charges will be brought,” Yenne said in a statement. 

Though DA Yenne chose not to prosecute, the House General Investigating Committee had three legal advisors retained to assist in the reviewing the final report and to advise them “on the most appropriate next steps.”

December 20, 2019 – Texas House Committee Closes Investigation

The House General Investigating Committee unanimously adopted the final report from its legal advisors. The report said Bonnen “likely violated” state law during the June meeting, but members of the committee decided not to pursue legal action against Bonnen and announced the investigation was closed. 

Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), chairman of the committee, said Bonnen “likely violated” section 572.051(a) of the Texas Government Code. However, according to advisers in the report, the law provided no “independent statutory consequences” for state officials who breach it. 
Any further action will be left to the 150-member legislative body. The Texas House of Representatives rules allow for the proposal of articles of impeachment. According to Section 665 of the state’s government code, if members decide to act on Bonnen’s impeachment, they will have three methods of doing so during the legislative interim.

Texas House committee adopts report saying Dennis Bonnen “likely violated” the law during meeting with hardline activist

BY CASSANDRA POLLOCK

The House General Investigating Committee on Friday unanimously adopted a report from its legal advisers that said House Speaker Dennis Bonnen “likely violated” state law during a June meeting with a fellow member and a hardline conservative activist — but the committee took no other action and said the matter was closed.

“Today’s action concludes the committee’s investigation,” said state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, after members met behind closed doors for over an hour.

Meyer, who left the hearing room at the Texas Capitol without taking questions from reporters, said the full report from the three legal advisers retained in October by the committee would be “promptly transmitted” to House members. The committee did not immediately release the report to the public.

Bonnen “likely violated” section 572.051 of the Texas Government Code, according to Meyer, who was reading from the report during the committee hearing. That section states that a state officer or employee should not “accept or solicit any gift, favor, or service that might reasonably tend to influence the officer or employee in the discharge of official duties, or that the officer or employee knows or should know is being offered with the intent to influence the officer’s of employee’s official conduct.”

The section also states that such a person should not “intentionally or knowingly solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit for having exercised the officer’s or employee’s official powers.”

Citing the report, Meyer also said that lawyers did not find supporting evidence that either Bonnen or Burrows broke other parts of state law. Meyer noted that, if state Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who chairs the House Administration Committee, was correct about characterizing Empower Texans as a group that participates in lobbying activities, then giving Sullivan’s organization credentials to the floor of the lower chamber would be a violation of House rules. Geren has previously denied Empower Texans those credentials.

The issue at hand dates back to late July, when hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan revealed he had secretly recorded a meeting with Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top lieutenants the month before at the Capitol. During the meeting, Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered Sullivan’s group media credentials to the lower chamber if its political action committee targeted 10 Republicans in the 2020 primaries. Bonnen and Burrows also disparaged a number of House Democrats, as well as local government officials.

Sullivan’s secret recording set off a months-long political drama that ultimately ended in Bonnen announcing he would not seek reelection to the lower chamber — and, consequently, the speakership — after serving in the House for over 20 years. Amid the fallout, Burrows also stepped down as chair of the House GOP Caucus.

As the drama was playing out, the General Investigating Committee asked the Texas Rangers, the state’s top law enforcement agency, to investigate the matter — a request that the District Attorney Jeri Yenne from the speaker’s hometown also made soon after. In October, the Rangers concluded their investigation and submitted findings to Yenne, who announced Bonnen would not face criminal prosecution over his remarks during that June meeting.

After Yenne announced her decision, attention turned to the committee, which retained three legal advisers in October to help review the final report and advise them “on the most appropriate next steps.” The three legal advisers are Patricia Gray, Will Hartnett, both whom are former members of the House, and Thomas Phillips, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

A copy of the full Rangers report, which committee members have had since October, has not been made available to the public. An open records request to the Department of Public Safety was referred to the attorney general’s office, which has 45 days to determine whether the report should be turned over.

This developing story will be updated.

This article first appeared on the Texas Tribune. Click here to read it in its original form.