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House speaker slaps Courser’s demand for separate probe

Chad Livengood, Karen Bouffard, and Gary Heinlein

State Rep. Todd Courser endorsed Michigan Democrats’ request for an independent investigation as the House Business Office continued its probe of the Lapeer Republican lawmaker and GOP Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell for possible misuse of office.

The official in charge of the House investigation said Wednesday that interviews with potential witnesses have started and could be complete by the end of next week.

On Friday, House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, ordered the House Business Office to conduct an open-ended investigation of tea party conservatives Courser and Gamrat three hours after The Detroit News reported interviews with former House employees and two audio recordings showed Courser and Gamrat used their taxpayer-funded offices to maintain and cover up their relationship.

Courser endorsed the idea of a separate probe in a wild flurry of Twitter posts Wednesday that tried to cast blame for the scandal on Cotter. It came as House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel requested that Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, conduct his own investigation.

“Speaker knew of the incidents immediately after alleged incident but left the staff in place? Why?” Courser tweeted without indicating to what he was referring.

He also retweeted a post by Michigan Democrats publicizing Chairman Brandon Dillon’s questioning of what Cotter knew about the Courser-Gamrat relationship. Both lawmakers are married; Courser has acknowledged there was a relationship, while Gamrat has not released a comment after refusing to discuss the issue with The News last week.

The speaker’s office reiterated that “we don’t investigate affairs.”

“We heard nothing about any 1) recordings or 2) allegations of taxpayer resources being misused until The Detroit News story came out” Friday, Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said in an email.

“This isn’t the boy who cried wolf; this is the boy who cried Loch Ness Monster. He’s shown time and time again that he has zero credibility on this issue. He’s desperate and trying to point the finger at anyone but himself for the pain he’s caused.”

In early July, Courser and Gamrat fired staffers Ben Graham and Keith Allard, who objected to the lawmakers’ relationship. The staffers also objected to how the relationship affected operations of the combined Courser-Gamrat office, unusual because the lawmakers’ districts are separated by 130 miles. On May 20, Graham rejected Courser’s order to send a fictional email claiming the lawmaker had sex with a man behind a Lansing bar.

Tim Bowlin, chief financial officer and business director for the state House, said Wednesday he has begun interviewing potential witnesses and that Courser and Gamrat are cooperating. “They will be interviewed. They just have not been interviewed at this time,” Bowlin said.

He added that he is compiling data and will need to write a final report.

“If I find something before that time that is potentially illegal, then I will forward that” to the Michigan State Police or attorney general, Bowlin said. “I won’t wait until the end of the investigation.”

Courser’s social media blitzkrieg came on the same day that Greimel of Auburn Hills asked Schuette to investigate, requesting in a letter a “law enforcement entity with subpoena power to investigate the matter and bring it to a speedy resolution.” Schuette’s office confirmed receipt of the letter but spokeswoman Andrea Bitely had no other comment.

On Tuesday, Courser accused the two former staffers, a Flint-area political consultant and a third aide who quit, Joshua Cline, of sending anonymous text messages indicating knowledge of the Courser-Gamrat relationship and threatening to reveal it if he did not resign. All four have denied the accusation as ridiculous.

On Wednesday, Courser posted on his Facebook page alleged anonymous text messages he said he received, threatening him with revealing the relationship. One said the texter didn’t care about politics and others said Courser should resign.

“I didn’t send any text messages to Todd Courser,” said David Forsmark, the conservative owner of Winning Strategies in Flushing. “I was not trying to take him down, and they were not trying to take him down.

“These text messages — if they are really are from someone other than him — he said they started in January. This has not been on my radar.”

If anything, Forsmark, 54, said it would make no sense for him to get Courser to resign because he has been approached by two people who wanted to challenge the Republican freshman lawmaker in 2016. Courser narrowly won the seat in November.

“I would have been costing myself some money,” Forsmark said. “He was looking pretty vulnerable.”

The political consultant said that while he is friends with Graham and Cline and they have done work for him, they never made critical remarks about Courser when they worked for the lawmaker.

“They would make excuses for him when I talked to them,” he said.

Graham and Allard were fired after receiving 6 percent raises about a month earlier. On May 20, Graham rejected Courser’s order to send the fictional email alleging the lawmaker had sex with a man. Cline quit working for Courser and Gamrat in April after he said he confronted them about their relationship and “unprofessional” office behavior.

Courser said on Facebook the alleged blackmail texts “are very intimate. They were freakishly stalking. It was in this environment that I was acting to find out who was involved in the blackmailing. They involved access to conversations, texts, locations, and family info including private cell data. It was constant surveillance from January forward.”

In his Facebook post Tuesday, Courser claimed “has been in contact with authorities over a period of time” about the alleged blackmail scheme, but did not say which law enforcement agency he contacted.

The lawmaker’s claim to have made contact with police came one day after Gov. Rick Snyder questioned publicly why Courser had not contacted the Michigan State Police.

“I’m not aware that Rep. Courser has reported anything in the last couple of days,” state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner told The News.

If Courser had sought the help of federal law enforcement authorities, the nearest FBI field office to his home in Lapeer County is in Flint.

David Porter, a spokesman with the FBI’s Detroit office, would not say Wednesday whether Courser visited the Flint field office Tuesday. “I can’t comment on that situation,” Porter told The News.

The Ingham County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t received a report from Courser about an alleged blackmail effort, according to a spokesman.