House lawyer urges 1 expulsion, 1 censure in affair cover-up

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Posted: Sep 08, 2015 10:43 PM
House lawyer urges 1 expulsion, 1 censure in affair cover-up

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The top lawyer for the Michigan House recommended Tuesday that one state lawmaker be expelled and another censured for misconduct stemming from an attempt to hide their extramarital affair.

Brock Swartzle, general counsel for the Republican-led chamber and chief of staff to the speaker, said GOP Rep. Todd Courser of Lapeer should be kicked out in part because he has shown "little true remorse," instead writing "mini-manifestos" on social media to deflect blame.

He said a censure would be appropriate for Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell, whom he described as contrite and more of an accomplice in the "bizarre" cover-up attempt.

"Under any standard of appropriate behavior, Rep. Courser has failed in miserable and spectacular fashion," Swartzle told a special six-member House committee considering discipline.

Gamrat admitted to official misconduct, misuse of public resources and asked for a censure Tuesday. Courser, who will testify Wednesday, submitted an apologetic letter also seeking a censure to "redeem myself in the public eye."

The panel, which released an 833-page investigative file Tuesday, is weighing what form of discipline to recommend to the 109-member House. A censure — more serious than a reprimand — would allow the House to take away committee assignments, staff and possibly levy a fine. Only three lawmakers have been expelled from the Michigan Legislature.

Courser, 43, and Gamrat, 42, have apologized but refused calls to resign.

Courser has admitted that he arranged for a phony, sexually explicit email to be sent to GOP activists and others that said he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. He said the tale would make the affair less believable if it was exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who was sending him and fellow freshman and social conservative Gamrat text messages demanding that he resign.

After an aide to Courser and Gamrat was fired in July, he gave The Detroit News a secret audio recording of Courser demanding that he send the email to "inoculate the herd," an apparent reference to Courser's supporters. While the aide refused and the email was likely legal, the plot was unethical and showed a "callous lack of respect" to the public, according to an initial House Business Office investigation.

On Tuesday, Gamrat tearfully read a statement to the committee apologizing and, in a reversal, acknowledging that she discussed the email with Courser while not knowing in advance the "specific and offensive" things in it. Asked by a panel member if she could still be an effective lawmaker, Gamrat said "a lot of healing ... needs to be done," but it should be left to voters to decide.

She and her 18-year-old son later met with dozens of angry constituents at the tiny Fennville City Hall in southwestern Michigan for the first time since the scandal broke more than a month ago.

"We've been betrayed," John Pearch of Fennville told Gamrat. "You're a distraction. Look at all the energy around this. ... We want our roads fixed. ... This is brutal to your family. You need to fix the home first before you can help us."

Donna White of Casco Township said it is selfish for Gamrat to accept her nearly $72,000 annual salary because the district essentially has no representation given her diminished role, which likely would continue under a censure.

Hearings are expected to conclude this week.

In his letter, Courser apologized for "clearly inappropriate" actions after the affair became public, saying it was "an emotional reaction and not well thought out."

He had previously accused former aides and "establishment" Republicans of conspiring against him. He gave the alleged blackmail texts to state police, who are investigating.

A panel member, Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth Township, said the committee will not necessarily rubber-stamp Swartzle's recommendations.

"She has certainly played this crisis better than Rep. Courser," he said of Gamrat. "She's made some mistakes along the way. But ... I do believe her apology is sincere. We certainly don't give her a free pass. A censure resolution can bring with it many sanctions and restrictions which really are detrimental to her ability to function adequately."

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Full House Business Office investigative file: http://1.usa.gov/1Qndgri

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

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This story has been updated to correct an inaccurate spelling of Swartzle in the penultimate paragraph.