The top lawyer for the Michigan House recommended Tuesday that one state lawmaker be expelled and another censured for misconduct stemming from an attempt to hide their extramarital affair.
Brock Swartzle, general counsel for the Republican-led chamber and chief of staff to the speaker, said GOP Rep. Todd Courser of Lapeer should be kicked out in part because he has shown “little true remorse,” instead writing “mini-manifestos” on social media to deflect blame.
He said a censure would be appropriate for Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell, whom he described as contrite and more of an accomplice in the “bizarre” cover-up attempt.
“Under any standard of appropriate behavior, Rep. Courser has failed in miserable and spectacular fashion,” Swartzle told a special six-member House committee considering discipline.
Gamrat on Tuesday admitted to official misconduct, misuse of public resources and asked for a censure. Courser, who is expected to testify Wednesday, submitted an apologetic letter also seeking a censure to “redeem myself in the public eye.”
The panel is investigating whether to recommend that the 109-member House discipline the legislators. A censure — more serious than a reprimand — would allow the House to take away Gamrat’s committee assignments, staff and ability to send mailings to constituents. Only three lawmakers have ever been expelled from the Michigan Legislature.
Courser, 43, and Gamrat, 42, have apologized but refused calls to resign.
Courser has admitted that he arranged for a phony, sexually explicit email to be sent to GOP activists and others that said he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. He said the tale would make the affair less believable in case it was exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who was sending him and fellow freshman and social conservative Gamrat text messages demanding that he resign. The self-smear email — which an investigator read for the committee — called Courser a “bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant” and “gun toting Bible thumping … freak” and Gamrat a “tramp.”
After an aide to Courser and Gamrat was fired in July, he 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 the aide refused and the email was likely legal, the plot was unethical and showed a “callous lack of respect” to the public, according to an initial House Business Office investigation. It also found that staffers were forced to lie about the couple’s whereabouts to facilitate their affair.
On Tuesday, Gamrat tearfully read a nine-minute statement to the committee apologizing and, in a reversal from an earlier public apology, acknowledging that she discussed the email with Courser. She planned to meet with constituents Tuesday evening for the first time since the scandal broke more than a month ago.
“While I did not know in advance of the specific and offensive things that were in the false email that was eventually circulated, I take full responsibility for my role in Rep. Courser’s plan and the resulting harm it has caused,” Gamrat said. “For this I offer my genuine apology.”
She also said she should have done more to stop mistreatment of staffers she and Courser shared together in an unusual office arrangement.
Asked by a panel member if she could still be an effective lawmaker, Gamrat said “a lot of healing … needs to be done,” but it should be left to voters to decide that question.
Courser, who attended the hearing with his attorneys, will testify Wednesday, said lawyer Dan Randazzo. Hearings are expected to conclude this week.
In his letter, Courser apologized for “clearly inappropriate” actions after the affair became public, saying it was “an emotional reaction and not well thought out.”
He had previously called for an outside probe, questioned if any misconduct is expulsion-worthy and accused former aides and “establishment” Republicans of conspiring against him. He gave the alleged blackmail texts to state police, who are investigating.
“I take full responsibility for my actions that jeopardized the integrity of the Michigan Legislature,” Courser wrote.
A panel member, Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth Township, said the committee will not necessarily rubber-stamp Schwartzle’s recommendations.
“She has certainly played this crisis better than Rep. Courser,” he said of Gamrat. “She’s made some mistakes along the way. But … I do believe her apology is sincere. We certainly don’t give her a free pass. A censure resolution can bring with it many sanctions and restrictions which really are detrimental to her ability to function adequately.” (AP)