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Cindy Gamrat apologizes for affair, but won't quit Michigan legislature

Cindy Gamrat, a Republican state lawmaker and mother of three, tearfully apologized for an affair with Rep. Todd Courser (R) of Lapeer, Mich.

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    Michigan Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, wipes away tears as she holds a brief news conference at the Abood Law Firm in East Lansing, Mich., on Friday Aug 14, 2015. The embattled but apologetic Michigan lawmaker who had an extramarital affair with another married legislator said Friday she will not resign from office for now and denied any role in a bizarre, fictional email sent to deflect attention from their relationship.
    (Dale G. Young, Detroit News via AP)
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An embattled but apologetic Michigan lawmaker who had an extramarital affair with another married legislator said Friday she will not resign from office and denied any role in a bizarre, fictional email sent to deflect attention from their relationship.

Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell tearfully broke her silence a week after the scandal broke.

"I am sincerely sorry that I have disappointed so many by my actions," Gamrat said during a news conference at an East Lansing law firm representing her. Her husband, Joe, stood at her side.

Gamrat said she made "poor decisions" in her personal life and takes "full responsibility" for hurting her husband and three children but did nothing wrong in her official capacity as a lawmaker.

"I believe an open and honest investigation will vindicate me," she said, while leaving the door open to stepping down later. "I intend to continue to represent my district to the best of my ability, and I look forward to re-engaging with my constituents in the days ahead."

Gamrat and GOP Rep. Todd Courser of Lapeer in Michigan's "Thumb" region are subjects of a House investigation into whether they misused public resources to hide their relationship and fired an aide who refused to help.

The 42-year-old Gamrat, a social conservative and tea party activist, took office in January.

Courser, 43, a fellow freshman tea party representative who like Gamrat bases legislation on Christian beliefs, said this week he orchestrated a false, sexually explicit email to Republicans and reporters in May claiming he was caught having sex with a male prostitute to make the affair less believable if it got out.

He apologized in an audio statement but said he would not resign, saying he devised the email under intense pressure after a "blackmailer" sent anonymous text messages demanding that he resign or the relationship would be exposed. He has posted the texts on Facebook; Gamrat said she has given state authorities texts she received.

Gamrat said she did not write or assist in sending the email and did not know of it until a reporter notified her.

In an unusual arrangement, Courser and Gamrat combined operations and shared three staffers despite having districts on opposite sides of the state.

One of the aides, Ben Graham, refused to send the phony email after Courser told him to take a sick day to do it, according to secret recordings and text messages he gave The Detroit News. Graham and another staffer, Keith Allard, received healthy pay raises in June but were fired in early July. The third aide, Josh Cline, quit in mid-April and plans to hold a Monday press conference to tell the "inside story" of working for the pair of legislators.

Gamrat said she shared staff with Courser to "eliminate redundancy and save taxpayer dollars." Allard, she said, got a salary increase to compensate for an increased workload because of a reduction in employees.

"Under no circumstances was anyone on my staff terminated because of a personal indiscretion on my part," Gamratsaid.

She said Allard was let go because of "poor work performance." He declined to comment Friday.

Republican Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton, whose southwestern Michigan district includes Gamrat's seat, said she and Courser should resign and stop providing fodder for late-night talk shows.

"They've already broken the public trust," Schuitmaker said in a statement. "It is an even bigger injustice to the taxpayers to stay in office and potentially force the House to go through the expulsion process. That will take up so much time and energy that should be spent figuring out how to fix the roads and solve all of the other problems still facing the state."

Here's a guide to this complicated political scandal:

A guide to events that have two legislators fighting for their political lives:

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AFFAIR

First-term Republican Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, outspoken social conservatives who base legislation on their Christian beliefs, had an extramarital affair of an unclear duration. The tea party activists won election to the House after defeating "establishment" candidates. In 2013, they surprised at the GOP convention by nearly unseating the then-chairman and vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party.

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EMAIL

Courser, 43, apologized in an audio statement and publicly admitted to orchestrating a false email sent to Republicans and the media in mid-May claiming he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub, apparently to make supporters not believe or disregard his relationship with Gamrat if it was revealed. In secret audio recordings provided to The Detroit News by a former aide to Courser and Gamrat, Courser said his goal was a "controlled burn." Gamrat, 42, tearfully apologized in a news conference where she denied any role in the email plot.

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STAFF

In an unusual arrangement, Courser and Gamrat shared three staffers despite having districts far apart. He is from Lapeer in the Thumb and is an attorney; she lives in Plainwell north of Kalamazoo and homeschooled her children after working as a nurse. One of the aides, Ben Graham, refused to send the fictional email after Courser told him to take a sick day to do it, according to recordings and text messages he gave the newspaper. Graham and another staffer, Keith Allard, received healthy pay raises in June but were fired in early July. The third aide, Josh Cline, quit in April and plans a Monday news conference to tell the "inside story" of working for both lawmakers.

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BLACKMAIL CONSPIRACY

Courser said he concocted the email scheme because he was being blackmailed, which appears to be consistent with what he indicated on the recordings three months ago. He and his brother posted to Facebook anonymous text messages they said they received urging Courser to resign or else the affair would be exposed. Courser said his aides conspired with a "blackmailer" political consultant in the establishment "Lansing mafia" and the email was an attempt to sniff them out. The staffers and consultant denied the allegations, and others said Courser is paranoid and has no one to blame but himself.

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INVESTIGATION

GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter ordered an inquiry by the House Business Office. It is investigating whether the two aides blew the whistle and were improperly discharged, if taxpayer resources were used for personnel or political gain and whether there was misconduct potentially warranting the legislators' expulsion. Director Tim Bowlin is expected to report back soon and also could forward his findings to law enforcement. A legislative rule prohibits members from converting state-provided staff, facilities, services or supplies for "personal, business and/or campaign use unrelated to House business."

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SPEAKER'S ROLE

Shortly after the phony email went out, Graham met with Norm Saari, Cotter's then-chief of staff whom Gov. Rick Snyder has since appointed as a regulator on the Michigan Public Service Commission. He informed Saari of the affair and the email. Democrats, calling for an independent probe by Attorney General Bill Schuette, said Cotter mishandled the situation and should have immediately investigated the misuse of state resources. They also questioned why the aides were let go. Cotter said the first time he knew of any secret recordings or potential misappropriation of resources was when he read the News story. Courser echoed Democrats' questions. Schuette did not comment.

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HISTORY

Even before the controversy became public, Courser and Gamrat clashed with House leadership and nonpartisan staff. In January, Courser wanted different office furniture and opposed his seat assignment in the House chamber. Gamratwas kicked out of House Republicans' closed-door caucus meetings in April. Courser soon after stopped attending the meetings.

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WHAT'S NEXT

Neither Courser nor Gamrat plans to resign despite calls to do so, though Gamrat is leaving the door open. The 109-member House could expel them for misconduct with a two-thirds vote, which has happened just twice in history, in 2001 in the Senate and 1978 in the House. If crimes occurred, the state constitution also states "no person who has been convicted of subversion or who has within the preceding 20 years been convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust" is eligible to serve in the Legislature. Citizens also may attempt to remove them through recall elections. The lawmakers certainly will face primary challenges in their GOP-leaning seats next August.

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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