Probe: Michigan lawmakers engaged in dishonest cover-up

AP News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2015 9:45 PM
Probe: Michigan lawmakers engaged in dishonest cover-up

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Two Michigan lawmakers who had an extramarital affair engaged in numerous instances of deceptive and "outright dishonest" misconduct in an attempted cover-up, in which public resources were misused and constituents were treated with a lack of respect, an investigator alleged Monday.

The report by the House Business Office said Republican Reps. Todd Courser of Lapeer and Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell were "not credible witnesses" in interviews and found that wrongdoing extended beyond their relationship to improperly using state resources for political purposes.

"While the affair itself may have been a personal matter, the decisions of both members to subsequently deceive their constituencies in an effort to 'inoculate the herd' and remain in their positions of power may have caused irreparable harm to their ability to serve their electorates," wrote Tim Bowlin, the House's chief financial officer and business director. "Effective representation requires trust, and trust requires truth."

GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter, who requested the report, said hearings will begin Tuesday by a special committee to investigate the legislators' fitness for office. That could result in discipline, including the expulsion of two of the Legislature's most outspoken social conservatives.

The first-term lawmakers, both of whom apologized, have declined to resign. Either could be expelled with a two-thirds vote of the 109-member House.

Courser, 43, admitted to orchestrating a fictional, sexually explicit email sent to GOP activists and reporters in May that said he was caught with a male prostitute behind a nightclub — to make the affair less believable if it was exposed. He said he concocted the scheme after a "blackmailer" sent anonymous text messages demanding that he resign or the relationship with Gamrat would be revealed.

Bowlin said it does not appear the texts were sent by a House employee and they have "no bearing" on the legislators' misconduct.

Gamrat, 42, has denied awareness of the email before it was sent. But Bowlin said recordings secretly made by an aide to Courser and Gamrat and staff testimony show she did know.

Courser, in a 4,100-word statement Monday night, suggested the probe was a "political hit" and retribution for his conservative stances. He said he was not allowed to see the evidence, which was not included in the public report, and called the summary "sanitized" and "doctored." He also said potential campaign-finance violations are typically referred to the secretary of state's office for an initial warning and possible fine, not expulsion proceedings.

"Is this an investigation? Or is it only offering evidence that fits a desired outcome? ... Quite honestly I am not surprised; I am pretty sure that there were nearly enough votes to expel me the day after I was sworn in," he said.

A message seeking comment was left with Gamrat.

The investigation found that Courser and Gamrat — in combining office staff and operations despite being from opposite sides of the state — "improperly and inextricably entwined political, personal, business, and official state matters." They had an office policy of entering constituent contact information into a private political database for Courser's potential congressional bid and Gamrat's failed campaign for Republican National Committeewoman, according to the report.

Courser said the NationBuilder database was used to administer the intake of constituent issues and was "completely separate" from his political database.

The investigation also alleged that staff members were told to prioritize tasks such as buying database information and were instructed to help develop or place Internet ads for Courser's law firm — allegations Courser also denied.

"Out of respect for the office, Representatives Courser and Gamrat should resign immediately," Cotter said in a statement. "But because these two will not do the right thing for their constituents, for their families, and for the House, we will now move forward with a select committee to examine their qualifications."

An aide to Courser and Gamrat had refused to send the phony email, according to recordings and messages he gave The Detroit News.

Two staffers also had contacted Cotter's then-chief of staff to discuss problems in the combined office. "There was reason in hindsight for the House to further inquire into the validity or depth of their claims," the report said.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said the summary report was "sanitized" to shield Cotter and questioned why the staffers were allowed to be dismissed by Courser and Gamrat after they had notified the speaker's office of problems. He renewed his call for an independent probe.

Even before the controversy became public, Courser and Gamrat clashed with House leadership. Gamrat was kicked out of the House GOP's closed-door caucus meetings in April after being accused of divulging confidential information. Courser stopped attending the meetings soon after.

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House Business Office report: http://1.usa.gov/1JsFGeO

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00