ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WOOD) — A former aide to two state representatives embroiled in scandal involving an extramarital affair and alleged cover-up held a press conference Monday to “set the record straight,” describing what he said were signs of the affair and ‘disrespectful’ treatment toward staffers.
State Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, freshman Republicans from Lapeer and Plainwell respectively, are accused of having an affair and using taxpayer-funded offices and staff to cover it up.
At the press conference in Royal Oak, former aide Joshua Cline described a “stressful” work environment in the offices where he and other staffers worked for both representatives.
Cline said he knew Courser before Courser became elected and considered him a “close, personal” friend. But, he said, Courser changed after being elected. He said Courser became “disrespectful,” “almost haughty,” “ever more elitist and arrogant” with his staffers.
“‘Let’s get it straight, boys,’” Cline recalled Courser told his staffers in January. “‘We’re not here to pass legislation. We’re here for messaging moments and media.’”
“Over the next few months, you never knew which version of Todd Courser you were going to get on any given day. It was like working with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Cline continued, saying Courser would sometimes praise him and sometimes berate or belittle him. “I cringed with each email notification, not knowing which representative wrote the email. Was it Jekyll or Hyde?”
The behavior, he said, “was totally unexpected” in view of their previous friendship.
Cline also said Courser and Gamrat came to show disregard for their staffers’ time and resources.
“Upon the point that I felt compelled to resign, I calculated that representatives Courser and Gamrat had canceled and rescheduled over half of their meetings, “Cline said. “They jointly imposed a rule that all meetings were to be attended by both representatives unless it was a constituent from their district. Curiously, Mr. Courser on occasion attended meetings with Rep. Gamrat’s constituents.”
Once, he said, the pair showed up late to a meeting with a lobbyist, then went into Gamrat’s back office where they remained for an hour, by which time the lobbyist had left.
Cline said he saw many signs that soon led him to suspect an affair.
“Representatives Courser and Gamrat would routinely disappear for hours at a time ,especially on Thursdays after session, and then ask us (the staffers) then to go get them dinner,” Cline said. “They spent an inordinate amount of time going for walks with each other during the day. The frequently greeted each other with what appeared to be long, romantic, highly personal hugs and embraces.”
Cline also said that Courser would often sleep on the floor of Gamrat’s office and that she would get him a pillow and cover him with a blanket.
Additionally, Courser would often comment on Gamrat’s appearance, saying she was beautiful or looked nice that day, Cline said. He said it was “excessively personal and quite awkward to witness.”
Cline said that after he realized the pair was having an affair, he confronted them about setting personal and professional boundaries. He said they dismissed him and told him that as a staffer it wasn’t his place to make such a suggestion.
He said he took his concerns about the apparent affair to the office of the Speaker of the House, but felt no relief was forthcoming.
There was one day in mid-February, Cline said, when the affair appeared to come to a head. Cline said he received a call from Gamrat’s husband as he was headed into his office saying he was “in for a very bad day.” Gamrat’s husband said that he had seen Gamrat leaving Courser’s room at the Radisson hotel in Lansing around 2 a.m. Later that day, Gamrat arrived to work a little late. She was disheveled, Cline said, and smelled of alcohol. Courser arrived later, spent much of the day in Gamrat’s office and also appeared out of sorts, according to Cline.
Eventually, Cline said, the stress of the situation started affecting his life, preventing from sleeping, putting him on edge and causing anxiety.
“The stress was immense. … I was worried about my job and my ability to support my family,” said Cline, who is married and has children.
But, he said, he found he could no longer turn a blind eye to “unethical behavior.” After speaking with his wife, who stood beside him during the press conference, he decided to resign in April.
“It is not an easy task to choose integrity over a paycheck to support my family. After confiding in my wonderful wife and my pastor, I chose to preserve my integrity,” he said, adding he remains confident that was the right choice to leave the “hostile and untenable work environment.”
Cline declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether Courser or Gamrat ever asked him to do something while on the clock that was he felt was improper, saying he hasn’t provided any official testimony to state investigators on that topic.
He said he “respects” and “reveres” the state legislature, and will do what he can to help discover all of the details of the situation.
Courser and Gamrat’s affair and the alleged cover-up became public after The Detroit News obtained a recording of a conversation during which Courser asked an aide to send an email alleging the representative had sex with a male prostitute, which was not true. The goal of the lie, the recording seem to demonstrate, was to distract from or mitigate news of Courser and Gamrat’s affair.
Courser later said that he made up that lie in attempt to disrupt blackmailers who had told him in text messages to resign or the affair would be revealed.
When Cline was asked by a Detroit News reporter if he sent Courser any anonymous texts from a phone with a 313 area code — seemingly questioning if Cline was the so-called blackmailer — Cline replied, “absolutely not.”
The state is investigating the alleged misuse of government resources. Both Gamrat and Courser have been described as cooperative.
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