Politics & Government

Texas Rangers ask for House members to share documents, recordings in speaker investigation

The Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit has asked House members for records and recordings related to their investigation into allegations that Speaker Dennis Bonnen offered press credentials to Empower Texans in exchange for targeting 10 Republican incumbents in their re-election campaigns.

The Texas Rangers unit investigating the allegations “is currently gathering all facts and relevant witness statements for this investigation,” according to letters delivered to House members’ offices late Tuesday afternoon.

The letter, a copy of which was viewed by the Star-Telegram, asks for House members “with any testimony, recordings, documents, records, or other information relevant to this investigation,” to reach out before Oct. 17 — the same day the House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet for a retreat.

On Aug. 12, the House General Investigating Committee unanimously voted to request the Rangers conduct an investigation into allegations that Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton, offered access in exchange for firepower from the political advocacy group Empower Texans in a June 12 meeting with the group’s CEO, Michael Quinn Sullivan, and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who was chairman of the GOP Caucus at the time.

Sullivan claims that Bonnen offered long sought-after press credentials for the organization’s news site in exchange for Empower Texans’ agreement to go against 10 Republican incumbents during their re-election campaigns. Sullivan later revealed he secretly recorded the meeting, and those who have listened to it have said it largely support Sullivan’s accusations.

The allegations stretched into the summer as information about the meeting slowly came to light. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the three, Burrows resigned from his position as caucus chair and the Republican state leaders, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have called for the release of the recording, saying Sullivan is “destroying our party.”

The recording has yet to be released publicly. The Dallas Morning News reported in late August that Sullivan told Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, that he had made the recording available to the Rangers as part of their investigation.

Klick was previously vice chair of the House Republican Caucus, and assumed the role of chair after Burrows’ resignation in August. The caucus faced strife internally, as members’ calls for an in-person meeting to elect a new vice chair were denied. Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, was elected to the role last month.

Sullivan’s and Bonnen’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The Rangers’ letter also states that Brazoria County — Bonnen’s residence — is the proper venue for the investigation, due to government code that stipulates prosecution of an offense against public administration take place where the defendant resided at the time an offense was committed.

The day after the committee’s meeting, Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne followed up with a request to investigate the same.

The Texas Department of Public Safety did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon about the status of the investigation. Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who is a member of the committee, previously said it will request a status report be issued within 30 days of the investigation.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, and chair of the committee, declined to comment Tuesday on the status of the investigation or if a status report was received.

The Rangers unit has subpoena powers and may receive assistance from local law enforcement or state agencies. The committee also requested a copy of the Rangers’ final investigative report be provided to the committee at the conclusion of the investigation.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.