‘20/20’ digs into Michigan political scandal

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Michigan gained the national spotlight for a month last year with the sex scandal and misuse of taxpayer resources involving Tea Party politicians Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

The tale will be told in detail Friday on ABC’s “20/20,” which the network calls its oldest prime-time news program. The episode features former state Reps. Gamrat of Plainwell and Courser of Lapeer and their ex-House aides Keith Allard and Ben Graham, who were fired in July. Detroit News political reporter Chad Livengood is also interviewed for the “20/20” report.

In August, Livengood broke the story in The Detroit News that freshman Republican Courser was behind the distribution of an email to state GOP activists that alleged he had sex with a male prostitute in an effort to conceal his relationship with Rep. Cindy Gamrat. Courser was caught on audio tape devising his plan to spread the false story.

In a preview for Friday’s episode, “20/20” calls the story a “political cover-up so twisted it just might make Olivia Pope (of the ABC show ‘Scandal’) blush.”

“I’m sorry, it’s not how I wanted it to go,” Gamrat says in the clip, wiping tears from her eyes.

About 35 days after Livengood’s Aug. 7 story was published, Courser resigned near the end of a 12-hour House session after it became apparent there were enough votes to expel him after two prior unsuccessful votes. Gamrat was ousted from office in a 91-12 vote.

“I think ‘20/20’s’ producers were fascinated by the twists and turns of this unusual political sex scandal and how it captivated Lansing’s attention day-in-and-day-out for a month,” Livengood said. “For the House at least, the scandal, investigation and expulsion proceedings basically sidelined other legislative matters, such as getting a road funding bill passed.”

Gamrat and Courser, each married with children, championed traditional family values but admitted to the extramarital affair as well as misusing House resources.

Livengood says for him the story was less about the affair and more about “whether they abused their offices and taxpayer resources to carry on the romance.”

“When I obtained the now-infamous audio tapes in mid-July, we took our time with the story to make sure it was fair and accurate before we published it.”

“20/20” corespondent Gio Benitez told The Detroit News he was “taken aback” at how open Gamrat and Courser were with him.

“We met with them several times, even up until this past week,” he said. “The more we met with them the more open they became. The more Todd Courser realized how ridiculous his scheme was (the more open he became).”

Benitez notes that Courser’s wife agreed to be interviewed for the episode, but Gamrat’s husband did not.

“And that’s what’s fascinating,” he said. “In this special, you’ll see how one marriage may be falling apart and another may be made stronger.”




10 p.m. Friday