Newly released audio renews calls for Speaker Bonnen to resign
AUSTIN, Texas - It was an hour-long meeting between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Michael Sullivan, head of Empower Texans. The audio recording that Sullivan secretly made in June was posted Tuesday on his website.
Eleven minutes in, Speaker Bonnen can be heard explaining why the meeting was called.
"I'm trying to win in 2020,” Bonnen said.
Bonnen's attorney Brian Roark Tuesday afternoon had this to say about the meeting: "There is just nothing there at the end of the day."
Sullivan in a tweet claimed the audio shows how Speaker Bonnen "explicitly offered an official government action in exchange for taking political actions."
Specifically, the offer was for media credentials so writers with Sullivan's conservative organization can get onto the House floor.
The audio and 57-page transcript documents how Bonnen tried to convince Sullivan to launch attacks on certain Republicans and back off on others.
The meeting at the Capitol included State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), who at the time was Chairman of the House Republican Caucus. With primary campaigns about to ramp up, he provided names of those Bonnen wanted defeated. Bonnen called one lawmaker "vile" and said another made his skin crawl. He also made a homophobic joke.
Roark, in his opinion, said the conversation did not violate any state statutes.
"If talking about politics and to some extent trash talking other politicians and other folks were a crime there wouldn't be anyone left walking around the Capitol, that’s just politics," Roark said.
Tuesday in a statement Speaker Bonnen said:
"I have repeatedly called for the recording to be released because it will be immediately clear that no laws were broken. This was nothing more than a political discussion - the problem is that I had it with that guy."
Bonnen went on to claim the audio clears him of criminal wrongdoing.
"I've never alleged he did anything criminal, those are other people who alleged that what we have said is what he did is unethical,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan said his motivation was about openness.
"Are we OK with the backscratching crony culture, or do we expect our elected officials to conduct themselves in private the way they claim they do in public,” said Sullivan.
Back in August, the Texas House General Investigating Committee requested that the Texas Rangers launch an investigation. A report is expected by the end of the week.
The decision as to whether or not the Ranger investigation will be submitted for a Grand Jury Review is up to the DA in Brazoria County, where Bonnen is from.
There is also some political fallout to contend with as the audio was released just days before state Republicans meet here in Austin.
"And no matter how you look at it, this thing smells bad for the Republican Party,” said political analyst Brian Smith.
If Bonnen avoids a criminal charge, Smith believes he may still have an uphill battle saving his job.
"Is this repairable, Bonnen has apologized, the Republicans look and say we still have a strong political caucus, we have issues that are very popular in Texas, we saw a very harmonious session, if there is a way to bring that back than Bonnen can survive,” said Smith.