LANSING, Mich. » Two disgraced tea party Republicans are gone from Michigan’s Legislature, but their troubles may not be over as attention turns to a criminal investigation of misconduct including a plot to conceal their extramarital affair with an email of false and explicit claims.
Todd Courser resigned early Friday rather than be kicked out of the GOP-led House, after asking a reluctant aide to send the email to Republican activists and others in May claiming he had been caught with a male prostitute. The email was intended to make his affair with Cindy Gamrat appear less believable if it was exposed by what Courser said was an anonymous blackmailer demanding 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 sought leniency, saying in part that she did not know the email’s content, only to become the fourth lawmaker ever expelled at the end of a marathon session that ended before sunrise Friday. "I just want to go home and be with my family," Gamrat, of Plainwell, said later at her lawyer’s office.
Lawmakers have asked state police and the attorney general to investigate further. A House Business Office report uncovered dishonesty, misconduct and a misuse of public resources by the pair of self-described social conservatives but cited no specific crimes except possible campaign-finance law abuses.
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 and Gamrat said they received threatening text messages.
A spokesman for Attorney General Bill Schuette said the office already was investigating and will work in coordination with state police.
Courser, 43, a married father of four, and Gamrat, 42, a married mother of three, were both in their first terms. They were outspoken about their Christian faith and morals and had set out to shake up Michigan’s Capitol. But they clashed with the GOP leadership and were booted from or voluntarily left the majority caucus.
Despite their districts being far across the state from each other, the two combined operations and shared three staffers — an unusual arrangement.
Though a relationship between them was rumored around the Capitol, the scandal exploded last month, when a staffer who was fired seven weeks after refusing to send the email gave The Detroit News a secret audio recording of Courser saying his goal was to "inoculate the herd" — an apparent reference to Courser’s supporters.
Gamrat apologized and held a tearful news conference. An apologetic Courser initially was more defiant, posting scripture-laden confessionals of many thousands of words on his Facebook page and issuing an audio statement decrying a "Lansing mafia" he said was conspiring against him. As it became clear he could be expelled, he grew more contrite.
In calling for both legislators’ expulsion, Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican from Vulcan in the Upper Peninsula who chaired a disciplinary panel, said they had no one to blame but themselves for their plight.
"These two members have obliterated the public trust. … Each day that they continue here they reduce the public trust in this institution," he said.
Roughly 90,000 people in each of the lawmakers’ former districts will have no elected representative until March, when special general elections are held to fill the seats in southwestern Michigan and the Thumb region. Constituent services will be handled by other legislative employees until then.
Gamrat’s attorney, Mike Nichols, said he saw nothing in the House report "that gave me any pause whatsoever" in regards to her criminal liability and hopes to resolve potential misdemeanor campaign-finance violations with civil penalties.
Courser, a Lapeer attorney whose law license may be at risk depending on the outcome of the criminal probe, said "it’s time to turn a page" and "obviously heal some stuff in my own house."
Both Gamrat and Courser expressed disappointment that majority Republicans on the disciplinary committee did not subpoena their former aides to testify under oath about why they began recording conversations with their bosses.
The staffers talked with the speaker’s then-chief of staff about problems in the legislators’ "dysfunctional" combined office, according to the House Business Office.
"I do feel like other representatives would have been made aware of that," Gamrat said.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter said neither he nor his office had "actionable intelligence" on alleged misconduct earlier in the year, and "it’s not my job to police affairs."
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, backed the state police investigation and applauded the work of House members in their handling of the scandal.
"I appreciate them doing their jobs," he told The Associated Press from Japan, where he was on a trade and investment mission. "There were serious issues brought up."