LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan lawmaker apologized Monday but said he would not resign after orchestrating a campaign suggesting he had sex with a male prostitute in order to distract attention from his relationship with another legislator.
Republican Rep. Todd Courser of Lapeer said he was the target of a blackmail attempt before he devised the plan "to misdirect attention" from a threat to expose his extramarital affair with GOP Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell.
"It was over the top. It was wrong," Courser said in a 27-minute audio file posted on his campaign website. "It was not my finest moment. It was the only option I felt would be unpredicted by the blackmailer."
Courser asked in the posted recording for forgiveness from his wife and children and his constituents, as well as from Gamrat, her family and "especially her husband."
Gamrat has not commented and canceled a planned meeting with constituents Monday.
The two freshmen lawmakers are among the Legislature's most outspoken social conservatives and have said their legislative work is inspired by the "Divine hand of God." Both have had friction with GOP leaders, and calls for their resignations have come from Republicans as well as from conservative and liberal groups.
Courser said Monday he began receiving anonymous texts in May demanding that he resign or else the affair would be exposed. He said he devised the false email — which claimed he was a "bisexual porn-addicted sex deviant" — in part to "disrupt" the blackmailer, buy time to figure out who was behind the plot and discredit or blunt any potential leak of his relationship with Gamrat. It was unclear who actually sent the email.
Courser blamed three former aides for conspiring with the "establishment machine" to bring him down and "control" him, alleging that his office had been bugged. In an unusual arrangement for lawmakers with districts so far apart, Courser and Gamrat had combined their office operations and had the three staffers effectively work for both of them.
The aides, Keith Allard, Ben Graham and Josh Kline, said Monday "there is absolutely no truth" to Courser's accusations.
"We look forward to cooperating with any investigation to ensure that taxpayers are protected and faith in our institutions can be restored. Most important, an investigation will reveal the truth," they said in a statement.
Courser called himself "a broken messenger" but said he would not quit.
"The public must understand the political shenanigans played on their elected officials when they don't go along. I chose and have chosen to stay to make them play their hand," Courser said.
The Detroit News, citing secret audio recordings and text messages provided by Graham, reported Friday that Graham refused to send the email at Courser's behest, urged him to consider resigning and was subsequently fired on July 7. The email was received by Republicans and reporters on May 20 and 21, the two days following a recorded meeting in which Courser read aloud portions of a draft email. Allard quit in April. Gamrat fired Kline on July 7.
Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter has ordered an investigation by the House Business Office to determine whether Courser or Gamrat broke legislative rules or if there is evidence of illegal behavior such as a misuse of state resources. Director Tim Bowlin said Monday he was unsure how long the probe would take.
Under the Michigan Constitution, the House can expel a member with a two-thirds vote.
Democratic House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said because Bowlin serves at Cotter's discretion and Courser has made allegations involving Cotter's office, the probe should be turned over to Michigan's attorney general. Courser said a former staffer told him that he had been working with Cotter's office to "monitor us for some time."
Cotter has stopped short of calling for Courser or Gamrat's resignation until the investigation is complete. Spokesman Gideon D'Assandro denied Courser's claims that "establishment" Republicans pressured the duo.
"There are no black helicopters or drones flying around his office. We're not running some sort of giant big-government conspiracy over here," he said. "Unfortunately that's all he's got to fall back on. This is nobody's fault but his own."
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