Texas Politics

‘There was nothing illegal’: lawmaker says members were named, calls for recording to be released

State Rep. Dustin Burrows acknowledged on Thursday that certain Republican incumbents were named during a meeting between himself, Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

But, in what were his first public comments about the controversy, the Lubbock Republican denied accusations that he offered access to a news site affiliated with Empower Texans in exchange for the conservative political advocacy group’s firepower.

“There was nothing illegal done in that meeting,” Burrows said of the June 12 meeting.

Sullivan alleges that during the meeting, which is now the subject of a lawsuit and an inquiry by the Texas Rangers, Bonnen offered long-sought-after press credentials to writers of Empower Texans’ affiliated news site, Texas Scorecard. In exchange, Sullivan said, Empower Texans was asked to refrain from targeting certain Republican members in the upcoming 2020 elections while going after others.

Sullivan later revealed he secretly recorded the meeting, a copy of which has yet to be made public. Republican lawmakers and officials who have listened to it have said it largely supports Sullivan’s account.

Burrows joined numerous lawmakers and state leaders who have asked for the recording to be made public, and called for the “full, unedited, complete, immediate release of the tapes.”

Sullivan alleges that during the meeting Bonnen left the room while Burrows read off a list of 10 Republican incumbents to target. Bonnen has denied a list was produced during the conversation, but later admitted to saying “terrible things” during it.

Speaking with radio show host Chad Hasty on Thursday morning, Burrows said “there’s no physical list.”

“We didn’t walk in there with a piece of paper with the idea,” Burrows said.

Burrows said he was invited to the meeting and that the focus would be “the importance of 2020, reflecting on 2018 elections.” The Republican Party lost 12 House members to Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I went there in good faith, and I think maybe he didn’t have the best of intentions,” Burrows said of Sullivan.

Burrows said that during the meeting Sullivan wasn’t encouraged to target Republican members.

“We hope you don’t go after any Republicans. That’s not what we want you to do,” Burrows recounted. “But if you’re going to, why are you going after the conservatives that actually agree with you?”

Burrows went on to acknowledge that he raised the names of lawmakers who had voted against a taxpayer-funded lobbying proposal that failed to pass this legislative session.

“I pulled up the record vote. It’s a public document, has all 150 names on it. And I went through names of Republicans that voted against it,” Burrows said. “I made some subjective calls.”

Burrows said he went through the list alphabetically, assessing who he thought would ultimately come around on the issue, and who wouldn’t budge.

“It was very off the cuff,” Burrows said. “From that, that’s where these names came from.”

When asked specifically whether Burrows offered House media credentials, he said “I did not.”

Sullivan took to Twitter shortly after Burrows spoke on air and called the interview “priceless.”

“Nixonian in denials, and silly in proclamations of good intent,” Sullivan wrote. “So why did the laughable Mr. Burrows resign as chairman of the #TxLege @TXGOPCaucus?”

“This is the worst of politics,” Burrows said, citing the way Sullivan has slowly dripped out information and selectively shared the recording.

Lawmakers on the alleged list have called for an investigation. Burrows resigned as chairman of the House Republican Caucus last week, and announced Wednesday he will seek re-election.

Burrows received Gov. Greg Abbott’s endorsement for re-election Thursday.

Burrows said he has not spoken with the Texas Rangers, who are conducting an “initial inquiry” into the allegations at the request of the House General Investigating Committee.

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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.