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Michael Quinn Sullivan Releases Secretly Recorded Audio Of Meeting With House Speaker Dennis Bonnen

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune
Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen

During a June conversation at the Texas Capitol, Republican House SpeakerDennis Bonnen urged hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target members of their own party in the 2020 primaries and suggested he could get Sullivan’s group media access to the House floor, according to a secret recording of the conversation released Tuesday.

The 64-minute recording of Sullivan's June meeting with Bonnen and another top GOP member was posted on the website of WBAP, a talk radio station in Dallas where Sullivan was scheduled to appear Tuesday morning.

Roughly nine minutes into the recording, after discussing Sullivan’s recent trip to Europe, Bonnen says he’s “trying to win in 2020 in November.”

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … Let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen tells Sullivan. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

Sullivan first disclosed that the meeting happened in late July, saying that Bonnen offered his advocacy group, Empower Texans, media credentials on the House floor if the group targeted 10 Republican members of the Texas House. Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, pushed back against those allegations, though the speaker later apologized for saying "terrible things" during the meeting and Burrows resigned as chair of the House GOP Caucus. Both Bonnen and Burrows said the point of that June meeting was to convince Sullivan to stop trying to unseat certain Republicans in the primaries.

Sullivan had refused to make the recording of the meeting public for weeks, despite requests from Bonnen, the media and other GOP leaders. Nonetheless, his description of the meeting has unsettled the political order of the 150-member House.

The Texas Tribune was unable to immediately verify whether Sullivan’s recording had been edited. Reporters at the Tribune are listening to Sullivan’s recording and will update this story soon.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Cassandra Pollock is an engagement reporter for The Texas Tribune, which she joined in June 2017 after a stint as a fellow during the 85th Texas Legislature. She graduated in 2017 from The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism. Cassi has previously reported for The Daily Texan, the university’s official student newspaper, and The Washington Examiner in Washington, D.C.