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Lansing — The calls for state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat to resign intensified Monday after the House Business Office said it found preliminary evidence of official misconduct and misuse of taxpayer money by the freshman lawmakers.

Tim Bowlin, director of the House Business Office, said he turned over a report to Speaker Kevin Cotter’s office Monday that details “both misconduct and the misuse of taxpayer resources by both representatives.”

Cotter has directed a private law firm to review the report and remove or obscure any personal or confidential information about House employees before it will be publicly released later this week, spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

“I have received a draft report to review, and there is troubling evidence of misconduct,” Cotter said in a statement.

Cotter and Bowlin did not disclose the offenses Courser and Gamrat allegedly committed.

Bowlin has spent the last two weeks investigating the operations of Courser and Gamrat’s unusual combined office. The probe was ordered after The Detroit News first reported Aug. 7 on Courser’s attempt to get a House employee to help conceal his relationship with Gamrat by distributing a fictional email story claiming he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

Courser and Gamrat’s former House employees opposed their relationship internally and were fired without explanation in early July.

Bowlin’s report could be used by a special six-member House committee to start misconduct hearings against Courser and Gamrat and potentially pursue their expulsion from the House.

“I think the handwriting is on the wall quite clearly,” said Steve McNeal, chairman of the Allegan County Republican Party, which has called for Gamrat’s resignation.

Expulsion hearings could distract lawmakers this fall for several days, if not weeks, GOP consultant Dave Doyle said.

“The longer it drags on, the worse it is for them and their families and the worse it is for the Legislature and the worse it is for the constituents of Allegan and Lapeer counties,” said Doyle, vice president at Marketing Resource Group in Lansing.

Special committee forming

Last Wednesday, the House approved the creation of a special committee to further investigate Courser and Gamrat’s conduct and determine whether they are fit to remain in office.

Cotter has not yet appointed members to the special committee, which would have subpoena power under the resolution the House approved on a voice vote. The panel would have four Republicans and two Democrats.

The non-partisan business office’s report gives lawmakers the evidence they need to commence a deeper investigation, hold public hearings and move toward expelling Courser and Gamrat, said former Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

“They should treat it expeditiously, but make sure the facts drive their decisions,” Bolger said Monday. “I think Speaker Cotter’s been wise to calmly and methodically seek out the truth and seek out evidence.”

The committee’s formation last week gives the GOP majority the ability to begin hearings before the House returns to Lansing on Sept. 9, the former speaker said.

“He’s keeping things moving,” Bolger said of Cotter, his successor. “I think that was a smart move.”

Courser has resisted calls to step down and has maintained he will ultimately be vindicated of any wrongdoing. The outspoken conservative legislator did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment and has been unusually quiet on social media in recent days.

Gamrat has considered leaving office, but said Monday she “will review the report and study my options.”

“I will talk it over with my family before making any decisions on what steps might be next,” Gamrat said in a statement.

The Lapeer County Republican Party last week joined a growing chorus of Republicans calling for Courser to resign immediately, echoing officials on the GOP’s 10th Congressional District committee.

But the county chairwoman doubts Courser will listen to his local fellow Republicans, who have revoked Courser’s local party membership and banned him from participating in events the party pays for, such as marching in parades.

“I don’t think he’ll resign,” said Jan Peabody, who lost a four-person 82nd District GOP primary to Courser in August 2014. “It’s sometimes hard to understand why he does what he does.”

Courser’s intentions unclear

Courser has admitted to distributing the fictional story about himself on May 20 and May 21 to rank-and-file Republicans using an anonymous email address.

Then-House aide Ben Graham recorded a May 19 meeting with Courser in which his boss said he needed the “controlled burn” email sent out to “inoculate the herd” against revelations of his relationship with Gamrat, according to an audio recording Graham made of the meeting.

But Courser has since claimed it was an effort to root out a “ring” of conspirators trying to get him and Gamrat to quietly resign from office or have their Capitol romance exposed.

State Rep. Tom Barrett, chairman of the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, has been exploring a public censure of Courser for skipping a May 21 committee meeting “to presumably cover up unethical behavior” related to his romance with Gamrat.

Audio recordings provided to The News reveal that Courser missed the committee’s meeting that morning while apologizing to Graham for trying to get him to distribute the sexually explicit email alleging Courser is a “bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant.”

Graham refused to send the email, telling Courser in a text message that he would not help him “cover it up.” About one week later, Courser and Gamrat gave Graham and their dual Chief of Staff Keith Allard 6 percent pay raises, the maximum annual increase allowed, according to House records.

In early July, Courser and Gamrat fired Graham and Allard without explanation. Both Graham and Allard have said they opposed Courser and Gamrat’s relationship.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

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