House expels Gamrat; Courser resigns before vote

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan House of Representatives ousted state Rep. Cindy Gamrat from office just after 4 a.m. Friday for misconduct involving her extramarital affair with Rep. Todd Courser — one hour after Courser abruptly resigned.

At 4:13 a.m., the House voted 91-12 to expel Gamrat from office after the Plainwell Republican made a final plea on the floor for a censure. Gamrat's ouster makes her just the fourth lawmaker to be expelled from the Legislature

"Resigning would have been a whole lot easier, I'll tell you that," Gamrat said. "But sometimes the easy roads aren't the best roads to take."

Courser and Gamrat's departure from the Legislature came five weeks after The Detroit News revealed the existence of audio recordings of Courser orchestrating a bizarre scheme to cover up their affair by spreading a phony diversionary story that he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

The News' story led to an internal House investigation that found evidence of Courser and Gamrat engaging in deception and dishonesty to maintain and cover-up their affair.

"I have done everything I can to redeem this situation and I am sincerely sorry for what it's caused," Gamrat said. "And I don't know know what else I could have done more."

Courser's resignation at 3:12 a.m. Friday before lawmakers could make a third attempt at expelling him from office shocked lawmakers because of his defiance since the scandal broke on Aug. 7.

"I thought he was going to go kicking and screaming," said Rep. John Chirkun, a Roseville Democrat who served on a special committee that voted Thursday morning to expel Courser and Gamrat.

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House Speaker Kevin Cotter also was surprised Courser, R-Lapeer, resigned and Gamrat, R-Plainwell, forced a floor vote on her expulsion.

"It was the reverse of what I expected," said Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. "That did throw me for a bit of a loop."

Courser and Gamrat had spent much of their eight months in office battling Cotter, who tossed Gamrat from the Republican caucus in April for leaking confidential information.

"To me, it didn't make a difference of how we got there as we got to the result of both of these members no longer being a member of the body," Cotter told reporters.

Courser signed a resignation letter just as House Republicans appeared to have secured enough Democratic votes to remove him from office.

"I felt like it was the appropriate thing to do as I've been sitting there tonight," Courser told reporters. "I just felt like the hour is late and ... it was the appropriate moment to do it.

"I've put everybody through a whole bunch ... as far as across the state, my own family, the constituents, the people in this room. I think it's time to make that decision and I felt it was the appropriate moment to take that step."

Courser's resignation and Gamrat's expulsion ended a whirlwind and dramatic day in the House that began with a special committee's 4-0 vote to expel him and Rep. Cindy Gamrat for misconduct related to their extramarital affair.

“It’s got to stop — and it stops today,” said Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.

After the committee vote, Courser was still defiant and said he wasn't considering stepping down voluntarily. But after he handed in his resignation letter and walked off the floor, Courser indicated he was worn out by a 14-hour session and a pending third vote on his ouster.

"I just felt like they were just going to go until they got their answer," Courser said.

More than two hours prior, Courser had remained defiant.

"The leadership intends to keep us here until they get the votes they need to expel me," Courser said in a Facebook post just before 1 a.m. Friday.

Prior to Courser's abrupt resignation, the House had been mired in a political impasse over expelling him for misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources in covering up the affair with Gamrat.

Twenty-seven Democrats had withheld their votes in protest of how the GOP majority had investigated and sought the ousters of the two freshmen Republicans.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat bows her head and clasps her hands as the House convenes in a new day Friday while the Legislature remains deadlocked.

Democrats contended Republicans were rushing to expel Courser and Gamrat without forcing their former aides to testify under oath about misconduct in which the freshmen representatives engaged to maintain and cover up their Capitol romance.

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But Democratic political strategists questioned House Minority Leader Tim Greimel’s strategy given the public lambasting Courser and Gamrat had taken in recent weeks over revelations of their bungled attempt to cover up the affair.

“I think the Dems are taking a pretty big risk here,” said Bob McCann, a Lansing-based Democratic consultant. “It’s certainly a tough explanation to the public as to why they are not supporting a move to expel these two.”

Courser and Democrats questioned whether Cotter’s office mishandled complaints about Gamrat and Courser’s affair from former aides Keith Allard and Ben Graham, and were using the expulsion proceedings to cover up their missteps.

"Our biggest concern was that the Republicans' effort to ram this through in just a week doesn't attempt to sweep this entire matter under the rug and prevent any further investigation into what occurred," said Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.

On the first round of voting Thursday, which lasted nearly two hours, the Republican-controlled House fell six votes short of the constitutionally required two-thirds majority, 73 members, needed to expel Courser from office. Twenty-six Democrats refused to vote in the first round.

Democrats held out their votes for hours until Republican leaders agreed to pass another resolution calling for Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Michigan State Police to "investigate the behavior and conduct" of Courser for possible malfeasance in office.

"This is what we've been looking for all along and we finally got it today," Chirkun said.

The House was keeping the voting board open for more than an hour. Democrats were withholding enough votes so the House lacked the two-thirds majority or 73 votes needed to oust the Lapeer Republican. Gamrat, R-Plainwell, and Couser also voted against the expulsion along with Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy.

Several Democrats argued Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson — both Republicans — need to launch criminal investigations and gather more information about the misconduct, misuse of taxpayer resources and campaign finance violations detailed in an 833-page House Business Office report.

"I was concerned about the criminal activity and how much money, how much state resources was used," said Rep. Frank Liberati, D-Allen Park, who initially held out on voting until Republicans agreed to call for a criminal investigation. "It wasn't just their actions — their actions rose to the level that I could vote to expel them. But there was more involved than just the expulsion."

The resolution calls for the House Business Office report to be forwarded to the state police.

A Michigan State Police spokeswoman said early Friday the agency would honor the House's request and "investigate potential criminal wrongdoing by" Courser and Gamrat.

Forgiveness sought

Before the first failed vote to expel Courser, he apologized to House members and asked his colleagues for mercy.

“If you think this is a pattern of abuse, then I think you have to move forward with expelling,” Courser said.

The two failed votes on Courser's expulsion came after Gamrat claimed Thursday afternoon that House attorneys tricked her into admitting to misconduct charges under the belief that she would be censured — a reprimand — rather than expelled.

“It was understood to me that this is what the committee needed for censure and, if I didn’t sign it, it would get very ugly. I was promised that ... that both barrels would be opened against me,” Gamrat said a few hours after a House committee voted, 4-0, Thursday morning to recommend her expulsion.

Gamrat submitted a letter last Friday afternoon to the House General Counsel’s Office that said she agreed “with the House Business Office’s finding of official misconduct, as well as the misuse of state resources.”

She also admitted to knowing about Courser’s plan to send fellow Republicans an “over-the-top email” smearing himself in what she called an effort to “mitigate the potential negative publicity” of their extramarital affair.

Cindy Gamrat ponders her fate before the vote to expel her from the House of Representatives on Friday.

Speaking to reporters before her expulsion vote, Gamrat said she doesn’t accept the House Business Office’s findings, contrary to her testimony under oath Tuesday.

“I didn’t want to sign it because there was a whole bunch of things in the report that I haven’t done,” Gamrat told reporters.

Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro denied there was ever a deal to spare Gamrat from expulsion and that she only signed a “request for censure.”

D’Assandro said there was “absolutely no quid pro quo” to get Gamrat to confess to the misconduct charges.

“It is technically perjury if she accepted the findings and now said she doesn’t accept the findings,” D’Assandro said.

McBroom slammed Gamrat during a passionate floor speech.

"There was no deal," McBroom said.

Cotter also denied Gamrat was ever guaranteed a censure in exchange for confessing to the misconduct charges.

"There was no agreement, nor could there be, nor would any rational person believe that a staff member or myself has the authority to bind all of these duly elected members," Cotter said.

How Courser-Gamrat scandal unfolded

The genesis of the scandal with former Reps. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, that involved the cover-up of their extramarital affair and misuse of taxpayer resources:

Jan. 14: Courser and Gamrat take their oaths of office. In an unusual arrangement, they combined House office operations using shared staff.

Jan. 20: Courser and Gamrat begin battling publicly with fellow Republicans, issuing a “liberty response” to GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address — the kind of retort that typically comes from Democrats.

April 15: Courser and Gamrat’s legislative director Joshua Cline resigns, suspecting his bosses “were having an inappropriate physical relationship.” Cline is a longtime friend of Courser’s who helped him get elected to the House.

April 16: House Speaker Kevin Cotter kicks Gamrat out of the Republican caucus for leaking confidential information from closed-door meetings. In protest, Courser calls Cotter a “bully” and stops regularly attending the meetings.

May 19: Courser calls aide Ben Graham to his Lapeer law office. He orders the state employee to send fellow Republicans an “over-the-top” fictional email claiming Courser was caught having had sex with a male prostitute – in a bid to obscure the affair. Graham records the meeting without Courser’s knowledge.

May 20: In the early morning, Graham rejects Courser’s order by text message. The fictional email gets sent to Republicans around the state during the next two days.

May 21: Courser pulls Graham into a meeting in Gamrat’s office where he and Gamrat apologize to Graham and discuss their relationship. The email is discussed in front of Gamrat. A Capitol reporter asks Gamrat about the email later that day on the House floor.

July 2: With approval from Courser and Gamrat, Allard and Graham begin dismantling the combined office operation, separating the two representatives’ shared calendars and key-card access to Gamrat’s office.

July 4: Gamrat’s husband, Joe, tips off Allard that Courser and his wife are planning to fire the aides the next week.

July 7: Courser and Gamrat fire Graham and Allard, who were at-will employees.

Aug. 7:The Detroit News reveals the existence of Graham’s May 19 audio recording of Courser plotting to create the appearance of a smear campaign against himself and Gamrat. House Speaker Kevin Cotter orders the House’s business office to conduct an open-ended investigation of Courser and Gamrat. Fellow Republicans begin calling for their resignations.

Aug. 10: Courser responds to The News’ story in a rambling 27-minute audio recording and claims the email was meant to root out an alleged “blackmail” plot to force him and Gamrat to resign involuntarily.

Aug. 14: Gamrat holds a press conference in East Lansing, apologizes for her “personal indiscretion” and contends the House investigation will exonerate her.

Aug. 19: The Michigan House creates a special committee to investigate Courser and Gamrat’s conduct – the first step toward expulsion proceedings.

Aug. 31: The House Business Office accuses Courser and Gamrat of engaging in “deceptive, deceitful and outright dishonest conduct” by using their offices, staff and taxpayer dollars to “cover up an affair” and work on political pursuits. The report says Courser and Gamrat lied to investigators and “are not credible witnesses.” Courser calls the special committee a “kangaroo court” with “handpicked” members and evidence.

Sept. 8-9: The special committee holds hearings. Courser and Gamrat testify that they committed misconduct and misused taxpayer resources for political and personal use, but apologize and ask for a censure.

Sept. 10: A House special committee votes 4-0 to expel Courser and Gamrat with two Democrats abstaining.

Sept. 11: The state House votes 91-12 to expel Gamrat — more than the two-thirds majority required by the state Constitution — an hour after Courser resigns.

Sources: Detroit News reporting and House Business Office investigation report

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