Rep. Courser's constituents considering lawsuit in light of Hous - WNEM TV 5

Rep. Courser's constituents considering lawsuit in light of House Business Office report

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LAPEER, MI (WNEM) -

Two Mid-Michigan lawmakers, one bizarre email and a shocking sex scandal.

Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter announced the House Business Office has completed its investigation into Reps. Courser and Gamrat.  He claims the investigation found instances of misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources that warrant further review by the Select Committee to Examine the Qualifications of Representatives Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser.

The committee voted to recommend expulsion for Courser and Gamrat on Sept. 10.

Courser, R-Lapeer, is under investigation after he was reportedly caught on tape talking about an affair with another lawmaker, Gamrat, R-Plainwell. They are accused of having the affair on taxpayer time.

Courser is also accused of using state resources to cover it up.

Courser’s aide recorded the discussion and released it to the Detroit News. In the recording Courser tells his aide he’d like to send a fake email out to republicans claiming he had sex behind a nightclub with a male prostitute.

Courser hoped it would appear to be a smear campaign.

“Now anything that comes after this is part of that. It’s a burn, and people say I’m not listening to that [expletive]. They’re attacking him,” Courser is heard saying in the recording.

Both Courser and Gamrat are married with children.

Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter said:

“The Business Office found several examples of misconduct that are wholly inappropriate for a sitting lawmaker. Out of respect for the office, Representatives Courser and Gamrat should resign immediately.  But because these two will not do the right thing for their constituents, for their families and for the House, we will now move forward with a select committee to examine their qualifications.” 

The House Business Office investigation has collected the relevant evidence, and a committee examined the allegations and evidence in a public forum.  Under the Michigan Constitution, the House is exclusively obligated to consider the qualifications of a member when evidence calls into question those qualifications.

>>Read the House Business Office report here<<

In a six-page statement Courser defended his aloof behavior, among other topics. He said he had a heart condition and was seeing a cardiologist for treatment. 

"Nothing in this post negates my own responsibility of culpability for my actions -- in my faith, to my family, to my constituents, and to you the public at-large, but some questions need to be asked about the players involved and the motives behind their actions."

In his statement, Courser also notes the only two legislators expelled from office were for felony embezzlement and the second was for multiple DUIs and allegations of spousal abuse.

>>Read Rep. Courser's full statement<<

The committee began the hearings Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 9 a.m.  Additionally, the complete collection of evidence will be made available to the public immediately following the qualification process. 

The six members of the bipartisan committee are: Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, Chair, Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township, Vice Chair, Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township, Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, Minority Vice Chair and Rep. Frank Liberati, D-Allen Park.

Following the release of the House Business Office’s investigation into state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel issued the following statement:

"The investigation by the nonpartisan House Business Office leaves no doubt- Representatives Courser and Gamrat used their state office to conduct non-state business and have continually put their own interests above those of their constituents. This violation of their oaths of office is unacceptable and they should immediately resign. The people of the 82nd and 80th House Districts deserve better. I commend Speaker Cotter and the House staff for taking swift action in investigating these allegations."  

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon blasted House Republican Speaker Kevin Cotter for releasing only a watered-down, “sanitized” version of the investigative report into a potential criminal cover-up of the Courser-Gamrat affair. Dillon claims the report failed to provide evidence for its assertions or answer questions around the Speakers office potential involvement, including his office’s meeting with whistle blowing staff and their termination.  Chair Dillon renewed his call for the full release of the report, including evidence, and for an independent investigation led by the Attorney General. 

“This ‘sanitized’ report was put together in a shroud of secrecy and is nothing more than a summary of assertions designed to shield Speaker Cotter’s office rather than get to the bottom of a potential criminal cover-up," said MDP Chair Brandon Dillon.  “The public wants their leaders to act with transparency and accountability.  That’s why we need an evidence-based independent investigation that is not controlled by the Speaker, that can truly get to the bottom of what Speaker Cotter knew and why whistleblowing staff were allowed to be terminated by his office.".

Calls for preliminary results

It's a simple request by Progress Michigan's executive director Lonnie Scott: release the House Business Office investigation into the affair between State Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

"All the documentation that has been collected throughout this investigation should be released to the public," Scott said.

He also wants details of the alleged cover up. But so far, the watchdog group said that has not happened.

"The taxpayers have paid for this investigation. They've paid for this information. And all of that should be made available," Scott said.

The Michigan Democratic Party is asking for the same information.

They're also taking aim at House Speaker Kevin Cotter because of questions surrounding when he found out about the scandal.

"It's unfortunate that the speaker who called for this investigation into the misuse of taxpayer dollars is now selectively releasing information and not releasing the whole report. We think that's just totally wrong," said Brandon Dillon, the chairman of the Democratic Party.

A spokesman for Cotter said the speaker wasn't available for an interview. But in a statement, the spokesman firing back saying:

"The ‘complete’ collection of evidence includes all sorts of private and confidential information. We can't release private emails from constituents seeking help with Medicaid or their personal tax issues. That's illegal and wrong."

In the end, watchdog groups said they want a team outside of the capitol to put the entire affair under the microscope.

"I do think it deserves an independent investigation, someone who is not connected at all to the legislature to take a look at all this information and do their own report," Scott said.

Rep. Courser

  • Courser is a State Representative for the 82nd district, that represents Lapeer County.
  • The Flint native was elected in November 2014.
  • He graduated from Lapeer East High School and UM-Flint.
  • Courser went on to law school at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated in 2003.

Community outcry growing

Deborah Lawson and a group of other Lapeer voters have been pushing for Todd Courser to resign for some time.

"I still feel like he needs to step down," Lawson said.

The embattled Republican has been at the center of a sex scandal and subsequent cover up for weeks.

Lawson said she and other residents want to bring a class action lawsuit because a state report shows he misused taxpayer resources.

"We think it's only fair that we shouldn't have to pay for it as his constituents, and as the taxpayers. And, he shouldn't be allowed to have his paycheck," Lawson said.

Courser declined comment for this story.

He's been active on Facebook in the past 24 hours, though – explaining why he's deleting certain comments and asking his constituents for advice.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous. He's blocked everyone from his Facebook that is asking to have him step down," Lawson said.

The process for possibly removing Courser from office started this week at the capitol. It's unclear if the select committee reviewing his actions will force him from his position or censure him instead.

Lawson hopes the result comes sooner rather than later.

"Please resign Todd. Step out of office. We need representation. You are not credible. And Lapeer community is asking you to step down," Lawson said.

"Get him out of here, we don't need him in there," said resident Robert Markley. 

After the House Business Office announced their preliminary findings show evidence of misuse of taxpayer resources, Markley wants Courser out of office.

Markley isn't alone. Protests started shortly after Courser's failed smear campaign. Lapeer resident Jake Davidson, who has already filed to try and fill the House post Courser occupies, said Courser needs to resign.

"He needs to write that letter and give it to the speak at 9 a.m. tomorrow, clean out his office, so we can have a special election to replace him as quickly as possible," Davidson said. 

The calls for Courser's resignation have only intensified. 

"We in Lapeer County are no longer going to stand for him," said resident Deborah Lawson.

Lawson is fuming over the continued controversy swirling around Courser.

"Without his credibility, he needs to resign. In a week, if he does not resign, I am asking those of Lapeer County to actively protest until he hands in his resignation," Lawson said.

The week is up, and Lawson was back on Aug. 20, asking Courser to resign voluntarily, without a recall or community vote.

"We do not want to pay the tax dollars to put in an effort to have him recalled. We would rather just have him forced out of office on his own," Lawson said. 

Sharing those sentiments, resident and singer/songwriter Chris Eilersen.

He and fellow musicians have recorded a song – "Hit the Road Todd" – to reinforce their message: they want Courser gone.

"I thought it would be interesting in a fun sort of way to let people know how serious the situation is with Mr. Courser," Eilersen said.

Lawson said concerns she has passed on to her legislator have been overlooked because of the scandal.

She now wants representation who can focus on the issues at hand.

"I really think that the County of Lapeer needs somebody credible in office. We pay his paycheck. For him not to be a voice on our behalf, where are we to turn," Eilersen said.

Outside Courser's Lapeer law office on Aug. 13, Paula Proctor and her twin sister Paulette Johnson marched and held signs asking the embattled state representative and close friend to step down.

"Todd, if you're watching, just give it up buddy," Proctor said.

The cries for Courser's resignation have been growing since it was revealed he manufactured a phony gay sex scandal to cover up his actual extramarital affair with fellow state Rep. Cindy Gamrat.

"If people are going to have affairs, that's up to them, their spouses, their God, whatever. But when you put an email out like he did, that's where my trust left," Johnson said.

In fact, the sisters said they helped Courser escape the awaiting media outside his office last Friday. But, after hearing all of the allegations for themselves, they now regret doing that.

"We thought we were doing good. We thought we were doing something right. To get slapped in the face, that's sad," Johnson said.

Lawson watched the protest. She supports the local effort to force a recall election if Courser chooses not to voluntarily resign his state house post.

"I think it's a great idea. Unfortunately, it takes 8,000 signatures to get him recalled," Lawson said.

There's been no activity inside Courser's Lapeer law office since the beginning of the week, and there's still no clue on where the state representative might be.

Back to work

Gov. Rick Snyder said work is getting done at the state capital, despite the recent sex scandal between two lawmakers.

Speaking to TV5 exclusively before slipping away into his capitol office, Snyder offered his thoughts on the sex scandal involving Courser and Gamrat.

Courser admits to creating a phony gay sex scandal to cover up his actual affair with Gamrat.

"It's terribly unfortunate. Both in terms of the personal costs to their families, and then the investigation is ongoing about the potential misuse of state funds," Snyder said.

Courser and Gamrat are resisting calls to step down. Courser spoke to TV5 and said he's vowing to keep working for the people who elected him.

"We all have personal issues, but the people of the 82nd District, Lapeer County, elected me to come here," Courser said.

Across the aisle, not everybody is happy the two embattled representatives showed up to work after a month long recess.

"I think that Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat need to leave the House immediately," Tim Greimel said.

Greimel, the House Democratic leader, is pushing for a police investigation into the affair and cover up.

"As I've said before, we need a law enforcement agency with subpoena power to look into this, get to the bottom of what happened, and hold accountable those who are responsible," Greimel said.

The governor said he is on the fence about whether or not the duo should step down.

"It's terribly unfortunate," Snyder said.

Former aide steps forward

The fallout from Courser and Gamrat's affair was so bad, one staffer said Courser would sleep on the floor of Gamrat's office and she would tuck him in.

Joshua Cline, the former aide to Courser and Gamrat, said the two would disappear for hours at a time.

"I am here to set the record straight," Cline said.

 Cline called Courser's personality a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"From my first day in office Mr. Courser adopted a rather disrespectful and almost haughty approach to me and other staffers," Cline said.

Cline said over time the freshman Tea Party favorite became more and more difficult to work with.

"His attitude became more arrogant and elitist,” Cline said. “The most pointed example being during a staff meeting where he said, let’s get this straight boys we're not here to pass legislation, we're here for messages and media moments."

And then Cline said Courser’s behavior became unbearable and said Courser began spending more and more time with Rep. Gamrat.

"Courser and Gamrat showed an absolute disrespect for me and [other] staffers’ time and resources," Cline said.

Cline, standing alongside his wife and attorney, said he had no choice but to come forward on Aug. 17, to save his integrity and distance himself from Courser.

After Cline's press conference, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon made a statement, calling for an investigation of Courser and Gamrat. 

“The more we hear about this sordid and bizarre episode, the less we know,” Dillon said. “The one thing we do know is that the Attorney General needs to get involved and head up an independent investigation into all parties involved, including House Speaker Kevin Cotter. On any given day, we learn of a new wrinkle to this story of lies, cover-ups and potentially criminal behavior. It's long past time for Bill Schuette to actually show up for duty."

Independent investigation

Dillon submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on Aug. 13 seeking employment records for three staffers fired with knowledge of Courser and Gamrat’s affair.

The request itself is seeking hiring and firing dates, salary increases and names of personnel involved in those decisions.

“There are far too many questions, including whether state resources were used in a criminal cover-up, and the public has the right to know,” Dillon said in a statement.

Dillon also said he was concerned about what House Speaker Kevin Cotter knew about the affair before the Detroit News reported on it.

The Michigan Democrats are calling for an independent investigation by Attorney General Bill Schuette. 

Blame and blackmail

Courser is publicly accusing political consultant David Forsmark of blackmail.

"He's insane. He's a megalomaniac of a really strange high order," Forsmark said.

In a Facebook post, Courser even posted screen shots of what appear to be texts from a phone with a Detroit area code which told Courser to either resign or risk the affair coming out.

The embattled Republican lawmaker said that's why he concocted a bizarre gay sex scandal to cover it up.

"I have never sent Todd Courser a text message, I have never asked anybody to send Todd Courser a text message," Forsmark said.

Courser fired aides he accused of being behind the plot, whom Forsmark is friends with. He said their hands are clean.

"Ben and Josh are really good at what they do,” Forsmark said. “They were loyal to Todd way beyond what you should have been loyal to Todd. They did not have anything to do with trying to take him down."

The political consultant has one last piece of advice for the embattled representative.

"Just get out and don't come back," Forsmark said. "I want him to publicly go down in flames."

Gamrat hires private investigator

Gamrat may be close to finding out who exposed her affair, at least that's what the private investigator she hired is claiming.

Gamrat and Courser have both said they received threatening text messages to either come clean or resign. Neither of them agreed and the Detroit News exposed their affair in early August.

Gamrat said the private detective she hired has identified the person who owns the phone number that was used to send her and Courser the threatening texts.

She is waiting on a second source to confirm the identify of the alleged blackmailer, Gamrat said, adding the texts originated from a 313 area code.

There is no word if Gamrat paid the investigators out of her own pocket or used taxpayer funds.

Gamrat issues apology

Gamrat issued a letter to fellow lawmakers apologizing for the incident, the Detroit News reported on Aug. 28.

"I would like to give you my sincere apology for any negative attention my personal indiscretion has brought to the House of Representatives," Gamrat wrote in the letter, according to the paper. "My family has been dealing with this matter privately, and it was not my desire for it to become a public matter."

Legislators respond

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel called on Attorney General Bill Schuette to lead the investigation against Courser and Gamrat.

“The allegations of wiretapping, blackmail and the use of taxpayer dollars to cover-up an affair between Rep. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) are serious and demand a full and impartial investigation. Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) has asked Tim Bowlin, director of the House Business Office, to lead this investigation. However, since Bowlin serves at the discretion of Speaker Cotter, and because Courser has made allegations against Cotter’s office, this inquiry must be turned over to an independent, outside agency. Even Tim Bowlin last week stated the need to move the investigation to a different party if laws were broken. I urge Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to lead this investigation and get to the bottom of these allegations. There is no place in the Legislature for people who are engaged in criminal conduct, and when accusations of this magnitude are raised, the taxpayers of Michigan deserve a full investigation," Greimel said in a statement.

State Rep. Candice Miller released the following statement on Courser:

"Todd Courser, a man who never passes on an opportunity to preach about his supposed morals and his close relationship with God, constantly evoking religion in his personal and political stances, has proven to be completely  unfit to represent the hardworking residents of Lapeer County, using taxpayer dollars to abide and assist his gross misconduct. Based on these revelations, under no circumstance can Todd Courser continue to represent the residents of Lapeer County, who are good, hard working community and faith-based folks.  This behavior is a slap in their face, especially from someone who presents himself as a moralist. I feel bad for all of the hard working Tea Party activists who helped him become a representative and he rewarded them by saying that we need to, inoculate the herd.' Todd Courser must resign."  

Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland sent messages to Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, urging that they immediately resign. He then issued the following statement:

"Tragic and sad as it is to say given the damage to their families, constituents, and the legislative process, it is my firm belief that Rep. Courser and Rep. Gamrat should immediately resign from the state House of Representatives.

There is no possible reasoning or rationale by which their remaining in office will benefit their families or the conservative cause  that so many have worked so long to advance. The longer the scandal and ridicule continues, the more damage will be done to both their families and to that cause.

It is absolutely not "essential for the cause of liberty," as Rep. Courser asserts, that he remain in public office. The behavior to which he's publicly admitted has, by association, damaged and discredited the cause of liberty and of conservative, constitutional, and limited government, and the longer political adversaries are allowed to demonize those principles in the media by association with such tactics, the more damage will be done to conservatives' ability to advance those ideals in Michigan.

We are taught by our Christian faith to offer compassion, forgiveness, prayers, and support to those who acknowledge wrongdoing and make sincere efforts to heal the damage done to their families. But extending such compassion and forgiveness to them as individual private citizens does not mean they should remain in positions of public trust, leadership, and accountability.

I'm hopeful that they will not force their families, constituents, or fellow legislators to endure weeks, months, or longer of allowing this damaging distraction to continue. It should end now."

>>Slideshow: Top 10 political scandals<<

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