AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The investigation by the Texas Rangers into House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was ordered Monday morning.
The unanimous vote by the five members of the House General Investigating committee came with one directive from Chairman Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).
"Any investigation should follow the facts and the evidence without regard to political considerations,” said Meyer.
The committee authorized the special review after meeting behind closed doors in executive session. Ironically, it was another closed door meeting at the state capitol in June that prompted concern from committee members like Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio).
"This was probably one of the most difficult decisions in my early legislative career,” said Pacheco.
Bonnen is accused of offering media credentials to hardline conservative activist Michael Q. Sullivan. The leader of Empower Texans claims the offer hinged on agreeing to use his organization to target a group of Republicans and Democrats who are up for re-election. Neither man testified Monday.
Pacheco said there was a simple reason why no one testified.
"Cause at this point we don’t know what to ask him about, that’s why we want this investigation, quite frankly you don’t know what’s in the pickle barrel until you take the lid off of it and that’s what we are hoping the Texas Rangers DPS integrity unit will do,” said Pacheco.
Sullivan claims he recorded the June meeting and has reportedly played it for several House members.
On his Facebook site Sullivan posted:
"I recorded the meeting to protect myself from Speaker Bonnen's proven practice of using lies to attack his adversaries. It is abundantly obvious my decision to record our meeting was the correct one.”
Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) was at the hearing and said she believes she is among those on the Speaker’s alleged political hit list. Beckley says she got an apology from the Speaker but wants more.
"I am not going to be hurt however this comes out, I do want to hear the tape and hear what exactly what was said,” said Beckley.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Bonnen said he "fully supports the committee's decision and has complete faith in the House Rules and the committee process working as they are intended."
If a criminal complaint is filed, the case would not be presented to a Travis County Grand Jury. It would be done in Brazoria County, Bonnen's home district.
A criminal case could take months, if not years to resolve. It took about two years for the public corruption case against former Gov. Rick Perry to come to a close, which he won. For the Speaker, there could still be some immediate political blow back.
"If there is nothing criminal, there is certainly something political they can run on for 2020,” said political analyst Brian Smith.
The Democrats, according to Smith, will campaign on the scandal. They could also use it as leverage because Bonnen will most likely need them to keep his job.
"This may not cost him re-election in his home district because he will go back home and say pencils have erasers, everybody makes mistakes, but it could cost him the Speakership,” Smith said. “It’s going to be hard for Republicans to re-elect somebody as Speaker who has a potential Quid Pro Quo over his head.”
If Bonnen survives the investigation, he will have a little more than a year to mend political fences.