House Speaker Cotter defends his handling of Courser-Gamrat romance

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — House Speaker Kevin Cotter on Tuesday defended how his office handled concerns by an aide to Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat about their romance’s effect on staffers and their House office.

Former House aide Joshua Cline said Monday he quit working for Courser and Gamrat in April after not getting a satisfactory response from Cotter’s office about his complaints over the two Republican lawmaker’s inappropriate conduct.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said there was nothing his office could do because they had no evidence that Republican Reps. Gamrat and Courser’s long-rumored relationship was “inappropriate as far as the state is concerned.”

“I can’t police affairs,” Cotter said. “And while I can hope that others will conduct themselves in an appropriate way, I am not a babysitter and I will get involved when there is at least some strong indication that … taxpayer resources are being used inappropriately.”

Cotter ordered an internal House investigation of Courser and Gamrat’s actions on Aug. 7 about three hours after The Detroit News reported on Courser’s effort to get a House employee to create a public diversion of their romance by distributing a fake email claiming Courser was caught having sex with a male prostitute.

The News was given an audio recording from former Courser aide Ben Graham in which Courser asks for his help in sending the email. Courser has admitted to sending the email.

Courser of Lapeer and Gamrat of Plainwell made their first appearance Tuesday at the Capitol since the scandal erupted over their relationship and unusual combined legislative office.

The House Business Office is investigating whether the two married Republican legislators used their combined office and staff to maintain or conceal their romance.

Courser spent most of his time Tuesday morning sitting in the public gallery seating in the House of Representatives. But Courser took his seat on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, as did Gamrat, when the House reconvened after a power outage.

Courser and Gamrat returned to Lansing a day after Cline claimed the married freshman legislators carried on an office romance since taking their seats in the House in January.

Just as the 10 a.m. House session was beginning, Courser posted a press release on his website calling for Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the Senate’s purchase of a new office building across the street from the Capitol.

The spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, brushed aside Courser’s attack.

“I would think Rep. Courser has other issues to worry about at this time,”Amber McCann said in an email.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said Gamrat asked him if she could apologize in person to the Democratic caucus during a closed-door meeting.

Greimel said he “declined to facilitate” Gamrat’s request, but allowed her apology letter to be read aloud during a caucus meeting.

Gamrat publicly apologized Friday for a “personal indiscretion” during a news conference at his lawyer’s office in East Lansing.

Gamrat, who was kicked out of the Republican majority caucus in April for leaking confidential discussions, also asked to apologize to fellow Republicans, Cotter said.

“I said ‘no,’ ” Cotter told reporters with Gamrat sitting 10 feet away at her desk. “I don’t think that is at all productive at this point. We’ve heard the public apology. She’s no longer a member of the caucus, and I don’t see any reason to have that apology at this point.”

Greimel has called on Schuette to investigate Courser and Gamrat’s actions to see whether they committed any crimes in attempting to cover up their relationship.

“We have some very serious criminal allegations here and a law enforcement agency with subpoena power needs to investigate and get to the bottom of exactly what occurred here and make sure that people who are found guilty are held accountable,” Greimel said.

Courser has endorsed calls by Democrats for Schuette to investigate instead of the internal administrative probe underway by the House Business Office, which can forward any evidence of criminal wrongdoing to Schuette’s office or other law enforcement agencies.

While lawmakers mingled early Tuesday morning on the House floor, Courser went up to the House gallery and sat with his parents and other Capitol visitors until stepping out in the hallway to speak to reporters. At times, Courser stood up and leaned on the railing of the gallery, looking out over the House floor.

Courser said he would soon address state Rep. Tom Barrett’s call for him to be censured for missing meetings of the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

“I’ll have a statement later in regards to that,” Courser said of Barrett’s censure request.

Courser has resisted calls from fellow Republicans to resign in light of admitting he sent the email on May 20 and May 21 trying to divert attention from his and Gamrat’s romance by creating the appearance of a smear campaign against him.