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Gamrat’s words, audio don’t match

Chad Livengood, and Gary Heinlein

East Lansing — Republican state Rep. Cindy Gamrat said Friday that she is sorry for her “personal indiscretion” related to a relationship with another lawmaker but believes a House investigation will clear her name of any misconduct in office.

Gamrat was making her first response to revelations Aug. 7 about her relationship with state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and charges by former employees that the lawmakers used state resources to conceal the relationship.

Until this week, the two freshmen tea party lawmakers shared a House office even though their districts are separated by 130 miles and are on different sides of the state.

“I hold our state Legislature in the highest regard and it’s a tremendous privilege and honor to serve my constituents,” Gamrat said before pausing to regain her composure. “I want to apologize for the negative attention this has brought. For that I’m truly sorry.”

“I am sincerely sorry that I disappointed so many by my actions,” she said later, reading from a prepared statement with her husband, Joe, at her side and her family nearby.

But audio recordings from May 19 and May 21 appear to contradict statements the Plainwell Republican made Friday. The recordings include the planning of a fictional mass email written by Courser accusing himself of having sex with a man behind a Lansing nightclub, and Gamrat’s plea to a former House aide not to reveal her relationship with Courser.

On Friday, Gamrat teared up and cried at several points during the news conference at the East Lansing office of the Abood law firm.

“I know that I have made some poor decisions as they relate to my personal life that do not line up with who I am or what I believe,” she said. “I know that over the weeks and months to come that I will have some hard decisions to make.”

Gamrat said she is considering resigning but is holding off on a decision.

She is scheduled to be interviewed by the House Business Office, which was ordered to investigate her and Courser. Gamrat said she will “fully cooperate” in the investigation and added that while she’s not proud of her personal actions, “I believe that an open and honest investigation will vindicate me.”

Gamrat never mentioned Courser by name during the news conference, only saying she shared employees “with another representative.”

Meeting recorded

She denied knowing about the content of the widely distributed email Courser has admitted writing that accused him of sex with male prostitute. Courser said he concocted it to counteract pressure to resign from someone sending him text messages about his relationship with Gamrat.

“I did not author nor assist in sending the email in question,” Gamrat said Friday. “I was unaware that this email was sent and also the content until a reporter pointed it out to me.”

In audio recordings of Courser provided to The Detroit News, Courser implicates Gamrat in the scheme he called a “controlled burn” to “inoculate the herd.”

The News first revealed last week that Courser told then-aide Ben Graham during a May 19 meeting that Gamrat approved of the email and its content, which included calling her “a tramp.” Courser also suggested that Joe Gamrat approved of the missive.

“They actually wanted it slanted more toward her,” Courser said in the recording, referring to the Gamrats’ involvement.

Graham recorded the meeting without Courser’s knowledge. The recording was provided to The News after Courser fired Graham in early July without explanation.

During that meeting in his Lapeer law office, Courser receives a phone call from a caller he identified as Gamrat. He can be heard on the recording telling Gamrat that he is explaining his plan for distributing the email to Republicans.

“Do you see another option there, Cindy?” Courser asked.

Graham later refused to send the email, telling Courser in a text message that he would not help him conceal the relationship.

Gamrat did not learn of the email’s content until the next day — May 20 — when a Capitol reporter showed her the email on the House floor, spokesman Justin Near said late Friday.

Probe opened

The News also has reported that Gamrat was present at a May 21 meeting in her House office where Courser discussed the email with Graham, who recorded that meeting as well. The mass email was distributed to Republicans across Michigan on May 20 and May 21.

“Protecting ourselves with an email that goes out to, you may not agree with the steps, but you know if I can save my children and my wife ... from a bit of that pain ... then great,” Courser told Graham.

Gamrat later tells Graham: “I’m sorry you were put in this position.”

In answer to a reporter’s question Friday, Gamrat said she also received some text messages and turned them over to the Michigan State Police. A state police spokeswoman told The News that Courser approached the agency on Friday for the first time — and that Gamrat had not.

“Rep. Courser did come in to the Lapeer post today of his own accord and spoke to an investigator,” spokeswoman Shanon Banner said. “We have opened an investigation. Given it is an open investigation, I have no other information to share.

“In regards to Rep. Gamrat, so far as we know, she has not provided anything to us.”

The west Michigan lawmaker said during her news conference Friday that she fired chief of staff Keith Allard because of constituent complaints and poor work — even though she approved a 6 percent raise for him between May 1 and July 1. Allard had objected to the lawmakers’ relationship.

“I want the record to reflect that in an effort to eliminate redundancy and save taxpayer dollars, although I had my own office, I shared some office staff with another representative and this staff arrangement was approved by human resources,” she said, detailing her arrangement with Courser.

“In addition, my former staff received a raise to compensate him for an increased workload because of a reduction in the number of people working in my office. This raise was also approved by human resources.

“Eventually and after consultation with human resources, the employee was let go due to numerous complaints from constituents regarding communications with the office and a track record of poor work performance,” she added. “Under no circumstances, was anyone on my staff terminated because of the personal indiscretion on my part.”

Combined operation

Since January, Courser and Gamrat had been sharing employees and running a combined office.

Former aide Joshua Cline has said the arrangement was originally meant to give the two freshmen more legislative muscle, but eventually morphed into a combined operation in which Gamrat and Courser would attend each other’s constituent and lobbyist meetings together.

Former aides said they would mostly work out of Gamrat’s House office and that Courser would rarely step foot in his actual office. Up until last week, Courser’s office in the House Office Building has been locked and a receptionist in Gamrat’s office was taking messages for Courser.

On Monday morning, House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s office split Courser and Gamrat’s shared offices, spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Friday.

“We put a stop to it,” D’Assandro told The News. “We have made it clear (to Courser) there has to be someone in that office, manning it” during normal business hours.

Courser did not return messages Friday seeking comment.

Apology to Graham

Gamrat also said Friday that she never told former Courser aide Graham not to tell anyone else about the relationship between her and Courser.

The two representatives used the May 21 meeting in Gamrat’s office to apologize to Graham for dragging them into their personal lives.

“Ben, I would ask you to just keep this private,” Gamrat told Graham on the recording. “It’s not just about protecting me, it’s also about protecting Joe and the kids — and him as well.”

The meeting took place during a workday as Courser missed a committee meeting, House records show.

On Monday, Courser released a rambling 27-minute audio recording and claimed the former aides for him and Gamrat were part of a “blackmail” ring coordinated by the “Lansing mafia” in the establishment wing of the Republican Party. The three former employees have vehemently rejected the accusation as ridiculous.

Tim Bowlin, director of the House Business Office, has said his investigation should be wrapped up by the end of next week.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660