Probe: Conduct of Reps. Courser, Gamrat ‘deceitful’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A House committee will gather for the first time Tuesday to begin weighing whether allegations of “deceptive, deceitful and outright dishonest conduct” by Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are enough to lead to their ouster from office.

State Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat

The chairman of the special committee said lawmakers will focus more on whether the House Business Office’s findings that Courser and Gamrat misused their office for personal, business and political gain disqualifies them from continued service — and less about the extramarital “affair” they had.

“The question is: Do they remain capable, qualified and able to fulfill the office that they’re in?” said Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

“...The relevant path of the committee at this point is not really finding out and airing dirty laundry in terms of the affair.”

The House Business Office released a stinging 40-page summary report Monday that said its two-week investigation uncovered evidence of misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources by Courser and Gamrat in an effort to “cover up an affair” and boost their political profiles.

The report appeared to accuse Courser, R-Lapeer, of seven core violations of House rules and state law and Gamrat, R-Plainwell, of five violations.

“The evidence demonstrates numerous instances of deceptive, deceitful and outright dishonest conduct by both representatives,” the House Business Office wrote.

The investigation was sparked by The Detroit News’ Aug. 7 revelation of Courser’s attempt to conceal the Capitol romance by spreading a story around Lansing that he had been caught having public sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

The report declared that “Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat are not credible witnesses” because their testimony conflicted with documentary evidence and audio recordings presented by their three former House employees. The brief said the recordings and documentation backed the testimony of former aides Ben Graham, Joshua Cline and Keith Allard as accurate evidence of the representatives’ misconduct in office.

Courser and Gamrat “misrepresented themselves on several occasions during their testimony” to the House Business Office, the report said.

“It confirms what we saw for seven months: They were unfit for the office they were elected to, their behavior betrayed their families, their constituents and their staff,” said Allard of Grand Rapids, who was Courser and Gamrat’s chief of staff until July 7. “And they showed no regard for the trust placed by the institution and the voters they were elected to serve.”

Courser struck back late Monday night in a 4,148-word response that suggested House Speaker Kevin Cotter had formed a “kangaroo court” to extract “political retribution” against him with an “abridged and doctored” report.

“The speaker now handpicks the evidence to be presented to the handpicked committee to make the decision if I should be expelled,” Courser wrote. “I will be given little to no ability to defend myself in the committee action or to present any evidence to counter any allegations.”

The summary report included copies of related campaign finance and House rules Courser and Gamrat allegedly broke, but contained no supporting documentation or transcripts of the recorded meetings that were referenced as evidence.

On Friday, the House Business Office formally declined a request from The News for access to its full report and evidence, citing the Legislature’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Courser and Gamrat’s unusual combined office “improperly and inextricably entwined political, personal, business and official state matters,” according to the investigation document.

“The use of state resources for non-official matters is an abuse of the office of State Representative.”

The internal House investigation found testimony and evidence of:

■ Staff required to facilitate Courser and Gamrat’s relationship, including lying to family members “about the representatives’ whereabouts ... to facilitate the secrecy of their romantic meetings.”

■ Requiring House staff to discuss their romance during normal business hours.

■ Using their state offices to build political databases of voters for Gamrat’s campaign for Michigan Republican National Committeewoman and Courser’s potential candidacy for a congressional bid in the 10th District, a campaign finance violation.

■ Staff conducting political tasks and work for Courser’s law firm on state time.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said Courser and Garmrat’s conduct has been “wholly inappropriate for a sitting lawmaker” and called on them to “resign immediately.” The Michigan Republican Party chairwoman did likewise.

Recording ‘most reliable evidence’

The probe centered around an audio recording Graham made of a late-night meeting with Courser on May 19 in Courser’s Lapeer law office. Courser can be heard in the recording instructing Graham to send an “obscene” email claiming Courser was “a bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant” who used his office to fuel “his habit of alcohol, drugs and illicity (sic) sex.”

Courser told Graham the email would serve as a “controlled burn” designed to “inoculate the herd,” according to a recording. The House Business Office said the recordings were among the “most reliable evidence” uncovered during its probe.

The sexually explicit email was distributed to rank-and-file Republicans on May 20 and 21 after Graham refused Courser’s request to send it.

“Rep. Courser purposefully caused, and asked Mr. Graham to send, an outlandish email full of lies against him from an anonymous source to various individuals in an attempt to cover up, conceal or diminish the impact of the affair that he was having with Rep. Gamrat,” the business office report said.

Courser has admitted to sending the email, but claimed the missive was meant to “misdirect attention” and “expose” someone anonymously sending him and Gamrat text messages threatening to publicly reveal their relationship if they didn’t resign.

Gamrat claimed at an Aug. 14 news conference that she had no role in writing or sending the email. “This statement is refuted both (in) audio recordings and staff testimony,” the business office report said.

The House Business Office said the text messages had “very little relevance to this investigation” and were “a diversion from the issues outlined” in the report.

“Throughout this investigation, Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat both failed to appreciate that the ‘blackmail’ allegations have no bearing on whether they engaged in misconduct or misused states resources,” the report said.

Courser and Gamrat have resisted calls to resign. Both are married with children and have publicly apologized for their actions.

Gamrat did not return messages Monday seeking comment. Gamrat attorney Michael Nichols said he needed “a few days” to “digest” the report before he and Gamrat would respond.

Forgeries on legislative bills alleged

The wideranging internal House investigation also uncovered “testimony and physical evidence” that Courser and Gamrat “forced their staff to forge their signatures” on three legislative bills related to taxes on motor fuel and liquor regulation. “According to their staff, this was done in attempt to quickly subvert the efforts of other representatives to introduce similar legislation,” according to the report.

The House Business Office concluded there is “insufficient evidence to support a claim of wrongful termination” of Allard and Graham since both were at-will employees. Lawmakers are free to hire and fire staff without questions from the business office.

“The employees’ at-will terminations were handled by the Business Office through procedures consistent with other terminations within the Michigan House,” the report said. “Claims of a hostile work environment or violations of Michigan’s doctrine of at-will employment were not demonstrated by evidence provided during the investigation.”

But the investigation found Gamrat and Courser were running “a highly dysfunctional combined office” and refused to learn how the legislative process worked.

In one email early in the year, Courser told his staff: “I DO NOT KNOW THE AMENDMENT PROCESS NOR SHOULD I HAVE TO.”

“They were completely disengaged with their constituents and their legislative work,” Allard told The News.


House accusations

An internal Michigan House report appeared to accuse state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, of seven core violations of House rules and state law and Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, of five violations:

Courser and Gamrat

■Courser sent a “false communication from an unidentified source” to provide “cover for personal misconduct is unethical and an abuse of the office of State Representative.” Gamrat’s statement to investigators and the press that she did not know about the false email and its contents before it was sent is “dishonest” and “constitutes conduct that is unbecoming of a state legislator.” It also “may have caused irreparable harm to their ability to serve their electorates.”

■Courser and Gamrat’s May 21 discussion of their affair with House staff on state property during office hours was a misuse of public resources for personal purposes. It is a dereliction of legislative duties. And it violates House Rule 74.

■Courser and Gamrat forced their staff to forge their signatures on three bills to subvert the efforts of other lawmakers in violation of House Rule 41. It also threatens the “public trust in government and elected officials.”

■Courser and Gamrat entered contact information for constituents into a “NationBuilder” software for possible political purposes — a violation of House Rule 74(4) as well as a breach of the trust placed in them by their constituents. They also appear to have violated the state Campaign Finance Act by having staffers work on political matters on state time.

■The combining of state offices for non-official matters is an abuse of the office of State Representative.

Courser only

■Courser improperly used state resources for business purposes that helped his law office.

■Sending the false email about himself “showed a callous lack of respect and candor to his fellow Representatives, constituents, and the public at-large.”

Special committee

The special House committee selected by House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, that will decide whether Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat stay in office consists of:

■Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, in the Upper Peninsula, panel chairman

■Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, panel vice chairman

■Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, near Grand Rapids

■Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township, in Macomb County

■Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, in Macomb County

■Rep. Frank Liberati, D-Allen Park, in Wayne County

Report excerpts

From the House Business Office report on Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat:

■“Both Representative Courser and Representative Gamrat misused their office, their office staff, and other state resources to cover-up an affair between the two legislators.”

■“The evidence demonstrates numerous instances of deceptive, deceitful, and outright dishonest conduct by both Representatives.”

■“The evidence demonstrates that both members, in combining office staff and operations, improperly and inextricably entwined political, personal, business, and official state matters.”

■“Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat are not credible witnesses. ... The audio and documentary evidence were the most reliable evidence reviewed as part of the investigation and that evidence largely corroborates the versions of the events told by the former employees.”

■“There is testimonial and audio evidence that Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat required their staff to meet during normal working hours to discuss their affair in spite of numerous requests by the staff to end the meeting and return to work.”

■“Throughout this investigation, Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat both failed to appreciate that the ‘blackmail’ allegations have no bearing on whether they engaged in misconduct or misused state resources.”

■“… Rep. Courser’s request of a State employee to send a false communication from an unidentified source in order to provide cover for person misconduct is unethical and an abuse of the office of State Representative.”

■“Rep. Gamrat unconditionally states in her interview that she did not know about the false email before it had been sent. … However, this statement is refuted by both audio recordings and staff testimony. Such dishonesty … constitutes conduct that is unbecoming of a state legislator.”

■“The evidence demonstrates that Representatives Courser and Gamrat ran a highly dysfunctional combined office. … Rep. Courser repeatedly berated their staff in an unprofessional manner.”