Finally Tuesday afternoon, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen made a real apology for whatever he said during a meeting with conservative activist Michael Q. Sullivan and Dustin Burrows, the head of the Texas House Republican caucus, on June 16. We still don't know what's on the surreptitious recording of the meeting made by Sullivan, but we know it's probably quite a bit less than flattering for the speaker.
"I said terrible things that are embarrassing to the member, to the House and to me personally," Bonnen wrote in a letter to Texas House members. "You know me well enough to know I say things with no filter. That's not an excuse for the hurtful things I said or the discussion that was had."
Bonnen didn't take all the blame on his own shoulders.
"I was stupid to take a meeting with an individual who has worked hard to divide our House," the speaker said of Sullivan. "It was a mistake."
On July 25, Sullivan published his version of what took place during the meeting on his website. Bonnen, Sullivan said, offered him a quid pro quo: If Sullivan attacked a Bonnen-approved list of 10 GOP House members during the 2020 Republican primary, Empower Texans would get media credentials for the House floor during the 2021 session of the Texas Legislature, a privilege that's previously been denied to the advocacy group.
Last Monday, Bonnen said Sullivan's story wasn't true.
Burrows, who Sullivan says actually provided him with the list, has yet to comment on what took place at the meeting.
That's where things stood until last Wednesday, when Sullivan wrote another blog post, asserting that he had an audio recording of the meeting — one he was ready to release unless Bonnen "recant(ed) his false claims about the meeting." Sullivan also began playing the tape for members of the House GOP caucus and conservative activists.
Sullivan mocked Bonnen's apology on Twitter.
"#TxLege Speaker @RepDennisBonnen asked me for a meeting. He made a quid pro quo offer. He & @Burrows4TX had a prepared list of @texasGOP targets for me to attack. And they have lied about all of it ever since. He wanted to make me the latest victim of his shady dealings," Sullivan wrote. "Yet @RepDennisBonnen has apologized for none of that. At what point will he apologize for lying to the public and his #Txlege colleagues? When will he apologize to me for putting me in the position of hearing his unethical proposal?"
RECAP: #TxLege Speaker @RepDennisBonnen asked me for a meeting. He made a quid pro quo offer. He & @Burrows4TX had a prepared list of @texasGOP targets for me to attack. And they have lied about all of it ever since. He wanted to make me the latest victim of his shady dealings.— Michael Q Sullivan (@MQSullivan) August 6, 2019
Yet @RepDennisBonnen has apologized for none of that. At what point will he apologize for lying to the public and his #Txlege colleagues? When will he apologize to me for putting me in the position of hearing his unethical proposal?— Michael Q Sullivan (@MQSullivan) August 6, 2019
In the week that Sullivan's been playing the tape, accounts from listeners have mostly backed up the activist's account.
"I listened to the recording, and it was very apparent that our speaker and caucus chairman did engage in targeting specific members of the Republican caucus," Rep. Tan Parker, one of the House members purportedly on the list, said in a statement Tuesday. "I find this reckless ambition to be absolutely disgusting. Their actions directly contradict the bylaws and culture of our caucus."
Other Republicans stuck by Bonnen on Tuesday.
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"This is a strong, much-needed statement from our Speaker," Plano's Jeff Leach said in a statement. "Like me, and all of us, Dennis is imperfect. But this statement exhibits a refreshing humility that admits missteps and seeks to rebuild the trust that has been broken. A great step forward for him and the Texas House."
House Democrats, like Bonnen himself, have called for the release of the full, unedited tape. Sullivan has shown no indication that he intends to do so soon and seems to be enjoying milking the situation. Monday, he teased an interview set to be released Thursday, during which he says he talks about Bonnen, Burrows and the tape.
Maybe we'll know more then.