For a week there has been speculation about whether I or Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen lied about our meeting on June 12. This was my greatest concern when he proposed a meeting in the first place.
Which is why I recorded the entire meeting, from before I walked in until after I left.
This was not a decision I took lightly. I do not record my encounters with lawmakers or anyone else as a normal practice. “Gotcha journalism” has not been of particular interest to me or our staff, particularly those whose job is to report daily on activities in the Capitol.
I recorded the meeting to protect myself from legal jeopardy, and to protect my own reputation, my family, Empower Texans, and our employees from the lies and malicious attacks Dennis Bonnen has proven he will launch against others when they do not bend to his will.
Earlier this year, Texans saw how Bonnen and his surrogates lied about the actions of Second Amendment activist Chris McNutt, who peacefully distributed materials in the speaker’s neighborhood. In his effort to kill gun-rights legislation, Bonnen encouraged the lies about McNutt and his actions. Since then, video provided by the Department of Public Safety has put Bonnen and his surrogates to shame. Nothing Bonnen or his apologists alleged about the incident was true.
At the end of May, Bonnen and I happened to be at Houston’s Hobby Airport at the same time. He approached me and we chatted while waiting for our flights. He initiated the conversation, and then asked me to follow up with him after our respective trips to discuss the legislative session, GOP unity, and the Democrat assault on Texas.
Something about the conversation made me uneasy. There were intimations that stuck with me; he had literally just been in the press attacking me, my organization, and other conservative groups. To be clear, he did not make any proposal at that time other than that we meet again.
As I have written previously, Bonnen’s offer at the June 12 meeting was something for which I was not prepared; it was outside my experiences and expectations. As soon as the meeting was over, I immediately took actions to protect myself and my organization. It was an attack on our integrity; Bonnen wanted to make me a victim, so I had to fight back.
There is almost no aspect of the June 12 meeting, or the events leading up to it, about which Bonnen has not lied. He lied about my follow-up text message to him setting up the meeting he requested. He lied about making a specific proposal to grant media credentials to Texas Scorecard reporters in exchange for our political action and inaction. And he lied about me being read a list of 10 Republican members he hoped someone would challenge and we would fund against.
After I gave him the opportunity—in private and without informing anyone other than my lawyers—to apologize and retract his offer, he doubled down with misrepresentations and attacks on my organization and character.
Bonnen’s response made it clear to me he was setting the stage to do to me what he had done to McNutt. That’s why I made the careful decision to report on the meeting. My intention has been, and remains, that Dennis Bonnen retract his proposal, apologize for the position he put me in, and—now—recant the lies and misrepresentations he has made. I will not be the victim he intended.
For example, Bonnen has written publicly: “At no point in our conversation was Sullivan provided with a list of target Members.” While saying he invited Burrows to the meeting as a “witness” to the meeting he initiated, he has since said he ordered Burrows to be silent about the meeting. When does one ask for a witness but then not allow the witness to speak? Are House members and the media comfortable with the real reason Burrows won’t talk?
I recorded the meeting because Bonnen is known not only for misrepresenting the truth but for being hot-tempered, impulsive, and undisciplined. The recording captures that.
As previously reported, Burrows read the full list of who to target—and not target—after being instructed to do so by Bonnen. However, at one point in the meeting Bonnen could not help himself; he started naming Republican names to be targeted, before catching himself and deferring to Burrows to complete the task.
Bonnen said in the meeting: “The speaker of the House shouldn’t tell you some folks to go pop.” But he did just that. Worse, he offered official actions in exchange for those pops.
This was a private recording for my own protection. I never intended to release the recording to the public because I believe it may damage innocent bystanders—most notably the Republican Party of Texas and Republican politicians (including those with whom I disagree on matters of policy or philosophy). Many do not deserve to be associated with Dennis Bonnen’s approach to politics. Bonnen said things in the meeting I expect the Democrats will use against Republicans generally. And if the Democrats use the recording effectively, that could ultimately be harmful to Texas taxpayers.
That’s why I met with RPT Chairman James Dickey on Tuesday, disclosing I recorded the entire meeting and encouraging him to take action cleaning up the GOP’s messy House.
Speaker Bonnen and Rep. Burrows must recant their false claims. All of them. Immediately.
If they do not, I believe I will be obligated to release the recording—in whole or in part, I haven’t decided yet—so as to set straight the record they have tried to contort.
In the meantime, I will do this: Republican legislators, party officials, and conservative movement leaders who may feel they are impacted by the recording are welcome to contact my office and we will make arrangements for them to listen to the audio in the presence of my lawyer.
Contrary to Bonnen’s self-serving claims, my goal in this has been to eliminate chaos, not to create it. It was to protect myself and others from what Bonnen was seeking to do.
Each time I listen to the recording and reflect upon it, I’m struck by how easily Bonnen made his pitch and how insistent he was that I listen to it. It makes me wonder what other deals he has cut in his seven months as speaker. How many lists of Republican targets has Bonnen distributed to other groups and organizations? And what did he offer them in exchange?
It’s time for the GOP to clean up Bonnen’s mess. How much more license to lie will Republican members of the legislature give to their chamber’s leader?