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State Rep. Todd Courser claimed Monday he distributed a story accusing himself of paying a male prostitute for sex to “expose” individuals trying to blackmail him into resigning office over a relationship with Rep. Cindy Gamrat.

In his first response to The Detroit News’ story Friday exposing Courser’s role in the email, Courser claimed his former aides Ben Graham, Keith Allard and Joshua Cline were behind the anonymous text messages he received, threatening to expose his relationship with Gamrat, a fellow Republican from Plainwell.

“The email in question was really put in motion to disrupt, disrupt the blackmailer and to give me some clues as to what their ability was as far as surveillance over my life and the threats they were making,” Courser said in an audio recording released early Monday morning.

The News first revealed Friday the existence of audio recordings between Courser and former aide Graham that exposed Courser’s lead role in sending out the email to Republicans in late May to divert attention from his relationship with Gamrat. Graham made the audio recordings without Courser’s knowledge and released them to The News after Courser fired him in early July.

In his recorded response Monday, Courser acknowledged the salacious email that said he was an alcoholic and drug-addicted “bisexual monster” was “over the top, it was wrong.”

“It was a fast decision on my part to do the emails,” Courser said. “It was not my finest moment. It was the only option that I felt would be unpredicted by the blackmailer.”

Courser accuses Graham, 25, of being part of the blackmail plot. In May, Graham refused to send the email for Courser. Weeks later, Courser gave Graham a 6 percent pay raise, state records show. On July 7, Courser fired Graham without explanation.

“The blackmailer’s still operating, goading me,” Courser said on the audio recording. “So I’m not sure how big the ring still is, but they’re still out there and still anonymous.”

Courser accused Graham, Allard and Cline of being "ill-suited" for legislative work and claimed they "bugged and then wiretapped" the combined House office he and Gamrat ran — an unusual arrangement at the Capitol — at the behest of Speaker Kevin Cotter.

"There’s obvious malice and hostility and anger about being let go, and they’re bonded together with that and moved to extract their revenge in the way that they did,” Courser said.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said Monday Courser's claims of a House-led bugging operation of he and Gamrat's office are "just ludicrous."

“He’s really displayed a long and consistent pattern of that type of paranoia,” Cotter told The News. “There are no black helicopters here; no drones circling the House Office Building.”

Allard, Graham and Cline released a joint statement Monday in response to Courser's claims about their employment record.

"This continues to be a very sad situation, not only for the families involved, but for the constituents of these districts. Attempts to blame others instead of accepting responsibility is unfortunate," the former aides said. "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. There is absolutely no truth to the accusations against us by Mr. Courser, as will be proven."

At Cotter's behest, the House Office Business is investigating whether Courser and Gamrat used taxpayer resources to cover-up the relationship. House officials have seized Courser and Gamrat's state computers and records in their offices, Cotter said Monday.

Courser, a tea party conservative who has battled Republican leaders since being elected to office last year, said in the recording he would not resign as representative of the 82nd District in Lapeer County.

“I could have resigned, this is really the option that anonymous texter wanted, and doing so quietly,” Courser said. “I simply would have been submitting to the authority of the establishment machine and doing so to protect myself and protect my family.

“… I felt that in of itself really allowed them to win and continue to do this in the way that they do in finding the screw and the thing that they can turn and turning it,” Courser added.

Courser said remaining in office is "absolutely essential" to advance the cause of smaller government.

“I feel it is absolutely, absolutely essential to have these clandestine operations to control public officials exposed,” Courser said. “So I refuse to leave quietly and have decided to that these efforts really need to come out.”

At the end of the 27-minute recording, Courser discloses the Detroit-area phone number he claims is behind the blackmail attempt to expose the relationship.

“And the phone number for the blackmailer is 313-421-5345,” Courser said. "So if anyone of you want to assist and help track down the blackmailer, there’s the phone number. OK. God bless again and have a great night. Bye. Bye.”​

The telephone number appeared not to be receiving calls Monday morning.

Courser used the first few minutes of the recording to issue what he called a “heartfelt and remorseful apology” to his wife, family and constituents.

“My wife and my family has known about the issues referred to in The News article for some time, and we’ve been working quietly to repair and rebuild our relationships,” Courser said. “It sounds trite to even say I’m sorry and to ask for forgiveness, yet I know that acknowledging my failure is really important.”

Courser also attempted to take full responsibility for the email.

In the audio recordings obtained by The News, Courser indicates Gamrat approved of the scheme and implicates long-time friend and associate Immanuel “Ike” Eickholdt as the person who sent the anonymous emails. Eickholdt has contradicted Courser and denied any involvement.

“But there’s also another group that I need to ask forgiveness from and that’s Representative Gamrat and her family — and especially her husband,” Courser said. “My actions in and around these events and the email that was sent to misdirect attention were my doing, both in planning and execution. No one else has the responsibility in those actions. They are mine and mine alone to carry.”

Courser did not directly admit to having a relationship with Gamrat and only mentioned her once during the lengthy audio recording, which was released in the middle of the night.

At one point, the freshman legislator invoked America's founding fathers to explain his actions.

“I have the problems in my background, the difficulties in my background like anyone else," Courser said. "And yet when I look to our founding fathers, they were all flawed and some deeply so. And yet they didn’t seem to see that … as a reason to not serve. And they served.”

Courser's comments were his first since calls for his resignation began to mount Friday from Democrats and some fellow Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.

Miller called Courser a "moralist" and "a man who never passes on an opportunity to preach about his supposed morals and his close relationship with God, constantly evoking religion in his personal and political stances."

“I have no, no moment to claim the righteous high ground on anyone. And yet I would just say God loves each and every one of us, and we’re all poor sinners," Courser said. “… I’m keenly aware that I’m just a poor sinner.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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