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Lansing— The chairman of the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee wants to publicly censure state Rep. Todd Courser for skipping a May 21 committee meeting “to presumably cover up unethical behavior” related to his relationship with Rep. Cindy Gamrat.

Audio recordings provided to The Detroit News reveal that Courser missed the committee’s meeting that morning while apologizing to a legislative aide for trying to get him to distribute a fictional email alleging Courser had been caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub. Then-aide Ben Graham refused to send the email, which Courser has admitted to writing and circulating to Republicans on May 20 and 21.

A public censure of Courser for an unjustified absence could serve as the first step toward expelling him from the House of Representatives, said GOP state Rep. Tom Barrett, chairman of the committee.

“I think that’s where this could proceed,” Barrett said of expelling Courser.

Barrett, a Potterville Republican and Iraq war veteran, said it was “appalling” to learn from an Aug. 7 Detroit News report that Courser was meeting with Gamrat and Graham while the panel was holding an 11 a.m. hearing on an audit of the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy.

Barrett said he’s in talks with House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s office about having his committee vote to censure Courser over his attendance issues. Cotter also could remove Courser from the committee at any time.

After the May 21 committee meeting, Barrett said he “confronted” Courser later that day about why he was absent because the Lapeer Republican had missed a prior meeting and committee vote and was routinely late to other committee meetings.

“I confronted him on it and he blamed it on a staff mix-up,” Barrett told The News.

But during the meeting inside Gamrat’s House office, Graham repeatedly told Courser he needs to get to the committee meeting, according to a recording Graham has said was made on May 21.

Courser and Gamrat used the meeting inside Gamrat’s House office to apologize for their indiscretions and urge him to remain quiet about the relationship. Courser also discussed the “over the top” email in Gamrat’s presence, which the Plainwell Republican has denied any involvement in concocting.

“I guess you’re not going to your (committee meeting), huh?” Graham asks Courser 48 minutes into a 67-minute meeting.

“I guess I missed it,” Courser said.

“You’re 17 minutes late,” Graham replied.

“Yeah, I don’t think I need to go, do I?” Courser asked.

“… You’re already late, so I would say it’s better to not be there than walking in 20 minutes late,” the 25-year-old aide advised.

Barrett said the audio recording “suggests (Courser) was conducting or covering up unethical behavior” on House property during normal work hours.

“It’s a dereliction of his job as a legislator for him to totally disregard his job as a committee member to presumably cover up unethical behavior,” Barrett told The News. “And that’s appalling to me.”

Barrett said Courser has been routinely late for the committee’s meetings, which are often attended by veterans dressed in military regalia.

“I found it disrespectful that Todd would just waltz in 10 or 15 minutes in the middle of a committee meeting,” said Barrett, who remains an Army National Guard helicopter pilot.

Committee records show Courser missed a Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 19, when the panel voted on legislation requiring universities to assist military veterans in converting college-level training into academic credit.

“Todd’s not a veteran, so you would think he would take this seriously with all (his) talk about our country and our values,” Barrett said. “The guy’s a total hypocrite.”

Courser, a devout conservative Christian, on Saturday called himself a “hypocrite” in a Facebook post and pleaded with observers not to blame God for his actions.

Barrett said he doesn’t want a committee reprimand to interfere with the House Business Office’s internal investigation into whether Courser and Gamrat mixed their personal relationship with their combined House office, an unusual arrangement at the Capitol.

“I also don’t want to affect or derail or overrule any other disciplinary proceedings that could also take place,” Barrett said.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, disbanded Courser and Gamrat’s combined office operation a week ago in response to The News’ story about Courser’s email scheme and attempt to get Graham to send it anonymously to rank-and-file Republicans.

Courser’s two unexplained absences from the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee’s nine meetings this year are not isolated.

The freshman legislator also has missed two meetings on the Education Committee, three Agriculture Committee meetings and two Criminal Justice Committee meetings, House attendance records show.

Courser was marked absent for a House Agriculture Committee meeting at 10:30 a.m. May 20 that adjourned at 11:28 a.m., committee records show.

At 11:36 a.m., eight minutes after the committee meeting ended, Courser’s first email smearing himself began arriving in the in-boxes of select Republican activists and political operatives across the state, according to the email’s timestamp. A second email was sent to Republicans on the morning of May 21, hours before Courser, Gamrat and Graham met in Gamrat’s office.

Courser did not respond Sunday to messages seeking comment.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

Ex-aide to offer ‘the inside story’

A former aide to state Rep. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat plans to “tell the inside story” about working for the two tea party Republican lawmakers at a Monday afternoon news conference, according to a media advisory.

Joshua Cline of Lapeer plans to hold a 3 p.m. news conference at the Dailey Law Firm on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak. Cline was Courser and Gamrat’s legislative director until quitting in April.

Cline previously told The Detroit News he quit after confronting Courser and Gamrat about their relationship being intertwined in the operations of their combined House office.

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