House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, one of the most powerful politicians in Texas, and one of his top lieutenants, Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, are embroiled in a political scandal involving a meeting the two had with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan in early June. In that meeting, Sullivan alleges, Bonnen offered writers for his website, Texas Scorecard, media credentials in exchange for refraining from criticizing the legislative session and targeting a group of 10 Republican incumbents. That allegation, which Bonnen denies, has led to political turmoil, a Texas Ranger investigation and a lawsuit.
Here’s a timeline of events:
June 12 – Bonnen and Burrows, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, meet with Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative activist and frequent critic of GOP leadership, in Bonnen’s Capitol office.
June 19 – Sullivan writes Bonnen and Burrows to say he rejects their offer.
June 27 – Bonnen responds with letter to Sullivan saying he has a “missimpression” of their meeting and that there is no offer to reject.
July 25 – Sullivan alleges on his website that Bonnen and Burrows offered media credentials to Texas Scorecard writers if Sullivan and his political action committee, Empower Texans, refrained from criticizing the legislative session and went after a select group of 10 incumbent Republicans. He also alleges that Bonnen made insulting comments about Democratic lawmakers Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Jon Rosenthal of Houston.
July 26 – In a letter to Republican caucus, Bonnen says he wants to “set the record straight” about the meeting and that he only took it to “preserve a Republican majority in the House.” He said Sullivan’s allegation was an attempt “to create further chaos among our caucus.” He does not address the allegations of a quid pro quo, providing a target list or of making insulting comments about colleagues.
July 29 – In his first public statement, Bonnen denies providing a list of targets for Sullivan and says the only reason for taking the meeting was “to protect my Republican colleagues” and prevent them from having to spend millions of dollars against primary opponents backed by Sullivan and his Empower Texans group. Bonnen says he has told Burrows to stay quiet on the matter.
Rep. Ernest Bailes, a Republican from Shepherd on the alleged target list, calls on Burrows, the Republican Caucus Chairman, to provide answers about the meeting.
Aug. 1 – Sullivan reveals he secretly recorded his meeting with Bonnen and Burrows and calls on them to “recant their false claims.” Sullivan threatens to release the recording publicly and begins to allow Republican lawmakers, party officials and conservative activists to listen to the audio. Bonnen calls on Sullivan to release the full recording publicly.
Aug. 2 – Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Republican from Bedford, becomes the first lawmaker to call for Bonnen and Burrows to resign after hearing the recording. Multiple other lawmakers who hear the audio say it confirms Sullivan’s account. Powerful Democrats Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, and Joe Moody of El Paso, Bonnen’s speaker pro tem, join the call for the recording’s full release.
Several of those who listened to the recording say Bonnen also offered to strip journalist Scott Braddock of his media credentials and offer them to Sullivan’s group.
Aug. 6 – As new and damning evidence comes to light that Bonnen and Burrows made insulting comments about House colleagues in their meeting with Sullivan, Bonnen sends a letter to his 149 House colleagues apologizing for saying “terrible things.” He does not specify the things he said though some who listened to the recording say he called Beckley “vile” and said Rosenthal made his “skin crawl.” Bonnen also does not mention providing a list of Republican targets.
Some Bonnen acolytes came to his defense, saying they accept his apology and urge colleagues to move on. Rosenthal accepts Bonnen’s apology. But Rep. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, and one of the alleged 10 targets, calls the comments on the recording “disgusting” and calls for the House Republican Caucus to investigate the meeting.
Aug. 7 – Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Republican from Dallas who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, schedules a committee hearing “with the intention of launching an investigation” into the meeting between Bonnen, Burrows and Sullivan.
After hearing the recording, Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, a Republican on the alleged target list, calls Bonnen and Burrows’ actions “disturbing” and says they “warrant further investigation and possible action by the caucus, the House, or others.”
Aug. 8 – The Texas Democratic Party sues Sullivan and Bonnen for creating an unregistered political action committee during their meeting and allege other election law violations. The Democrats, with Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos of Richardson as a plaintiff, also ask Sullivan to turn over the full recording of the meeting.
Aug. 12 – The House General Investigating Committee asks the Texas Rangers to begin investigating alleged improprieties during the meeting between Bonnen, Burrows and Sullivan. The Rangers begin an initial investigation and are told to report their findings to the committee upon completion.