Politics & Government

Empower Texans CEO says secret recording at heart of allegations to be made public

Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan said next week he will release the recording at the heart of the allegations that have embroiled House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and the state’s top leaders have called for the recording to be made public, which Sullivan has selectively shared with various Republican lawmakers and officials. In the “Texas Minute” newsletter emailed to subscribers, Sullivan said he made the recording for his “personal protection” and stressed “specific statements by Speaker Bonnen in the recording could be used by Democrats to undermine the GOP.”

“But because these Republican leaders continue to call for the recording to be made public and I have been given the green-light to do so by my legal team, later today I will announce that the audio will be released next week,” Sullivan wrote in an email.

Those who have listened to it have said it largely support Sullivan’s accusations that during a June 12 meeting, Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton, 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.

Both Bonnen and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who was chairman of the GOP Caucus at the time and at the meeting, have denied wrongdoing.

“There was nothing illegal done in that meeting,” Burrows previously told radio show host Chad Hasty.

Sullivan’s decision comes just days after both the Texas Rangers’ investigation and Texas Democratic Party lawsuit moved forward with their own inquiries.

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On Tuesday, the Texas Democratic Party filed a motion asking a judge to order the recording be produced within three days. The lawsuit, filed in August, alleges that the meeting between the three resulted in the creation of an unregistered political action committee and violated a slew of state election laws.

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A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Travis County District Court to discuss the motion.

“This strikes me as a ‘get out in front of’ move because it is likely the Court will order the recording produced at the hearing on Tuesday,” Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement. “The release of the the tape has supposedly been imminent a few times. We are proceeding in our hearing on Tuesday.”

The Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit delivered letters to House members Capitol offices in Austin Tuesday, asking them to share “any testimony, recordings, documents, records, or other information relevant to this investigation,” before Oct. 17 — the same day the House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet for a retreat.

The Texas Department of Public Safety declined to answer questions about the status of the investigation Tuesday.

On Aug. 12, the House General Investigating Committee unanimously voted to request the Rangers conduct an investigation into the allegations.

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

“As a result, the Texas Ranger Public Integrity Unit has either spoken with or provided a letter to all House members to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is conducted,” DPS said in a statement Wednesday. “For any additional questions, please contact the Brazoria County District Attorney.”

This story was originally published October 10, 2019 2:32 PM.

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.
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