LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan lawmaker had an email sent to his Republican supporters falsely claiming he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute, apparently believing such a smear campaign would help distract attention from an alleged extramarital affair between him and another lawmaker, a newspaper reported Friday.
The Detroit News (http://bit.ly/1T9vCvY ) obtained two recordings secretly made in May by a former aide of state Rep. Todd Courser, a tea party-backed social conservative from Lapeer. In the recordings, Courser asks the aide, Ben Graham, to email Republican activists and operatives from an anonymous account to create "a complete smear campaign" about him.
In the recordings, Courser tells Graham that he and state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, with whom he took the unusual step of combining office operations, received identical text messages about their relationship that day from an unknown number. Courser wonders aloud whether someone had pictures, video or audio recordings of him and Gamrat.
Neither Courser, a married father of four, nor Gamrat, a married mother of three, directly confirmed or denied having a sexual relationship during the recorded conversations. But they also didn't dispute Graham's characterization of their relationship as an extramarital affair, the newspaper reported.
Courser said the email he wanted Graham to send would "inoculate the herd" — an apparent reference to his and Gamrat's supporters.
"It will make anything else that comes out after that — that isn't a video — mundane, tame by comparison," Courser told the aide.
Graham said when he refused to send the email, he was stripped of some of his duties before Courser fired him in early July. The sexually explicit email was received by Republicans on May 20 and 21, the two days following Courser's recorded meeting with Graham. During the meeting, Courser reads aloud portions of a draft email. The newspaper said it's unclear who actually sent it.
The Associated Press sent messages seeking comment from Courser and Gamrat. Both lawmakers declined to comment to the Detroit News about reasons for the dismissals of Graham and an aide of Gamrat's.
"I'm not going to talk about any kind of staff-related issues," Gamrat told the newspaper.
Courser confirmed "that's my voice" as a reporter played the recording in his office lobby, but he disputed the legality of the recording.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in 1982 that participants in a conversation may record a discussion without getting the permission of other participants. "A recording made by a participant is nothing more than a more accurate record of what was said," the ruling states.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter said in a statement that after seeing the newspaper's story he decided to ask the nonpartisan House Business Office to determine "whether there was a violation of House rules or any evidence of illegal behavior." He said the office will follow up with "any and all appropriate measures, including disciplinary steps."
"We will not stand for any violation of House rules or law, and we will not let anyone's actions tarnish this institution or take away from the work we do every day to improve the lives of the hard-working men and women of this great state," Cotter said.
Tim Bowlin, chief financial officer and business director for the House Business Office, said he plans to review the request for an investigation and to determine the scope of a possible probe. Any findings would be reported to Cotter and the appropriate authorities, he said.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican from Michigan, called for Courser to resign, saying in a statement that Courser "has proven to be completely unfit to represent the hardworking residents of Lapeer County, using taxpayer dollars to abide and assist his gross misconduct."
Meanwhile, liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan said that if Courser and Gamrat used public resources to cover up anything, they should resign. The group said that would be "a clear violation of the oath that they both took when sworn into office."