2 Mich. lawmakers out after affair cover-up

Posted at 10:54 AM, Sep 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-11 13:54:34-04

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One socially conservative Michigan lawmaker was expelled from office and another resigned early Friday after they rocked the Legislature with an extramarital affair and a botched attempt to conceal it with a fictional, sexually explicit email.

Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat became just the fourth legislator to be kicked out in state history shortly after 4 a.m. An hour earlier, GOP Rep. Todd Courser resigned, effective immediately, when it became clear that majority Republicans had secured enough support from Democrats for his expulsion by promising to ask the attorney general and state police to investigate the lawmakers.

Both were immediately escorted from the chamber.

"I put everybody through a whole bunch — across the state, my own family, the constituents, the people in this room," Courser told reporters. "Whether it was the third vote or the fourth vote or the fifth vote, they were going to eventually get me."

Gamrat, who was expelled on a 91-12 vote, declined to comment as she left the Capitol with her teen son, her sister and her attorney at the end of a drama-filled, 16-hour session.

"I have done everything I can to redeem the situation," she said in her speech asking for a censure, which would have let her stay on the job with restrictions. "I am sincerely sorry for what it's caused."

Courser, 43, of Lapeer in Michigan's Thumb region, admitted to sending an "outlandish" phony email to GOP activists and others in May claiming he had been caught with a male prostitute. The email was intended to make his affair with the 42-year-old Gamrat appear less believable if it was exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who Courser said had demanded his resignation.

The self-smear email called Courser a "bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant" and "gun toting Bible thumping ... freak" and Gamrat a "tramp."

Gamrat, from Plainwell in the southwestern part of the state, said she discussed the plot with Courser but did not know the email's graphic content before it was sent.

On Thursday, a special House committee recommended the expulsion of both freshmen tea party legislators, who had based legislation on their Christian beliefs and clashed with GOP leadership even before the controversy broke. But the full chamber then deadlocked for hours, as more than two dozen Democrats in the minority refused to vote.

They attacked the "sham" investigation as rushed and self-serving. They questioned why two "whistleblower" aides to Courser and Gamrat were allowed to be fired by the speaker's office, since it had known of problems in the lawmakers' combined office, but were not subpoenaed to testify before the House panel.

For hours, the House was six votes short of the 73 votes, or two-thirds supermajority, needed to expel Courser under the state constitution.

In calling for both legislators' expulsion, Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican from Vulcan in the Upper Peninsula who chaired the disciplinary panel, said: "These two members have obliterated the public trust. They've obliterated the trust of their colleagues. And each day that they continue here they reduce the public trust in this institution."

Two staffers whom the couple shared were fired in July, precipitating the scandal that unfolded last month. One, Ben Graham, gave The Detroit News a secret audio recording of Courser demanding that he send the email to "inoculate the herd," an apparent reference to Courser's supporters. While Graham refused and the email was likely legal, the plot was unethical, according to a House Business Office probe that alleged dishonesty, misconduct, and misuse of public resources for political and other purposes extending beyond the affair and fictional email. The pair admitted to misconduct following that investigation.

State police are investigating the alleged blackmail and this week obtained a warrant for records from a phone company related to a prepaid, or "burner," phone from which Courser said he received threatening text messages.

Gov. Rick Snyder said he supports the state police's plan to look into potential criminal activity by Courser and Gamrat to "bring closure to the issue for all involved." A spokesman for Attorney General Bill Schuette said the office already was investigating and will work in coordination with state police.

Roughly 90,000 people in each of lawmakers' former districts will have no elected representative until special general elections are held next year. Constituent services will be handled by other legislative employees.