Aide called out office behavior of Courser, Gamrat

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Embattled state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat return to the Capitol Tuesday for the first session since their relationship was exposed and a day after a former aide alleged their romance created “a hostile and untenable” work environment.

Former House aide Joshua Cline spoke out Monday for the first time since talking with The Detroit News for an exclusive Aug. 7 report. The News revealed Courser’s failed effort to distract public attention from his relationship with Gamrat by distributing a fictional email claiming he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

Cline detailed how Courser and Gamrat allegedly mixed their romance with the operations of their official offices and how he asked them to “adopt and enforce professional and personal boundaries” during a late-night January staff meeting — a request Cline said they rebuffed.

Joshua Cline, former aide to Michigan state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, talks about the scandal engulfing them during a press conference at Dailey Law Firm in Royal Oak on Monday.

“They quickly dismissed my concerns and impressed upon me that as a mere staffer such a suggestion was not my place,” Cline said Monday at a news conference at the Dailey Law Firm in Royal Oak.

Gamrat of Plainwell has acknowledged a “personal indiscretion” in a scandal that has rocked the Capitol during the past 11 days.

The Republican-controlled House is planning its first session in a month as it seeks an elusive road funding deal, and some lawmakers worry the controversy surrounding Courser and Gamrat may distract from the task.

Rep. Joe Graves, a Genesee County Republican, hoped this month would be dominated by a legislative debate over redirecting existing state spending toward road repairs.

“That discussion has been kind of sidelined,” Graves said. “It’s been a distraction. We need to focus on our real job and not these wild stories that these guys are putting out and whether or not they’re going to resign.”

Rep. Tom Barrett, who sits in front of Gamrat, said it will be an awkward day in the House following the worldwide attention the story has garnered.

“It will be strange,” said Barrett, R-Potterville. “It will be uncomfortable for a lot of us.”

Cline said Monday that working for Courser and Gamrat was uncomfortable as well. He said he witnessed “long, romantic, highly personal hugs and embraces” between the lawmakers, who are married to other people, during the months he worked in their combined office on legislative matters.

The former staffer, who resigned in April, also said on the morning of Feb. 12 he received a call from Joe Gamrat, the lawmaker’s husband, who said he saw his wife leave Courser’s hotel room at 2 a.m. at the Radisson in downtown Lansing, near the Capitol.

“It is not an urban legend,” Cline said.

Cline said Gamrat came into the office the next morning “disheveled and she smelled of alcohol.” Courser arrived after Gamrat, Cline said.

“He spent most of the day leaning on the cabinets of Rep. Gamrat’s office,” Cline said. “He was very distraught, despondent, quiet.”

The two “spent a lot of time in the back office that day,” he said.

Cline said he and two other House employees waited three hours that afternoon to have a regularly scheduled staff meeting. At 5:30 p.m. that day, Cline said, Courser sent him a text message asking him to attend a Lapeer County Farm Bureau meeting in his absence.

Cline is a longtime friend of Courser’s from Lapeer, and worked on his past campaigns for office. Their families have been friends for years, Cline previously told The News.

Courser has claimed Cline and former aides Keith Allard and Ben Graham were political operatives who were “ill suited” for administrative work in the Legislature. Courser and Gamrat fired Allard and Graham in early July after giving them 6 percent raises.

During Monday’s news conference, Cline detailed what he believed was inappropriate behavior between the two freshman lawmakers, who have been political allies since running together for Michigan Republican Party leadership posts in 2013.

Cline said Courser often slept on the floor of Gamrat’s office, and the female lawmaker would “tuck (Courser) in with a pillow and a blanket.”

“Reps. Courser and Gamrat would routinely disappear for hours at a time, especially on Thursdays after session, and then ask us (to) then go get them dinner,” Cline told reporters. “They spent an inordinate amount of time going for walks with each other during the day.”

Courser often told Gamrat “how beautiful she was or how nice she looked that day,” said Cline, 36.

“It was excessive and personal and awkward to witness,” he said. “Rapidly, I began to suspect that Rep. Gamrat and Rep. Courser were having an inappropriate physical relationship.”

Courser, Gamrat and her husband did not return messages Monday seeking comment.

Gamrat spokesman Justin Near said Monday that Cindy and Joe Gamrat “had been dealing with the affair privately ... prior to the story breaking.”

Near declined comment on Cline’s accusations.

In an unusual arrangement, Courser and Gamrat combined their office operations, having three aides effectively work for both of them. Their districts are about 130 miles apart.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, disbanded Courser and Gamrat’s combined office Aug. 10, three days after The News reported Courser’s email scheme.

The House Business Office is investigating Courser and Gamrat for a possible misuse of taxpayer money in trying to cover up their relationship.

In May, Graham rejected Courser’s order to take a sick day and send the fictional mass email, which arrived in the inboxes of rank-and-file Republicans on May 20 and 21.

A week ago, Courser claimed in a rambling, 27-minute audio recording that Graham and Gamrat’s former aides were part of a “blackmail” ring coordinated by the “Lansing mafia” in the establishment wing of the Republican Party. Cline, Allard and Graham have denied sending Gamrat anonymous text messages threatening to expose the relationship if they didn’t resign.

Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said the controversy surrounding Courser and Gamrat “makes it difficult to govern.”

“Not just on roads, but on every other issue we’re trying to work on,” Leonard said. “Everywhere I go in my district, everyone wants to talk about Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.”

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