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Michigan Lawmaker Reportedly Concocted Fake Scandal To Cover Up A Real One

The Detroit News reports that a prominent Tea Party-inspired state representative in Michigan sought to cover up an affair with a female lawmaker by spreading a rumor about himself that he had engaged in a public sex act with a male prostitute.

In an audio recording obtained by the newspaper, House aide Ben Graham and state Rep. Todd Courser, who is a married father of four, are allegedly heard discussing an affair between the lawmaker and Rep. Cindy Gamrat. The News says Courser has acknowledged that it is his voice in the audio but that he declined to elaborate. However, he disputed the legality of the recording, according to the News.

In the audio, apparently secretly recorded by Graham, Courser reads an email that the aide is meant to surreptitiously send to rank-and-file Republicans. The newspaper says the email provides fabricated details of a homosexual tryst between Courser and another man "outside a prominent Lansing nightclub."

The lawmaker says in the audio that Republicans will dismiss the email as part of a "complete smear campaign" and that it would "inoculate" him against the scandal of the (actual) affair with Gamrat, who is married with three children.

The email calls Courser "a bisexual, porn-addicted sexual deviant."

Courser concedes to Graham: "It is ridiculous. I need it to be over the top."

"In a controlled burn, you do a little bit of truth mixed in with a lot of lies," the lawmaker says in the May 19 conversation.

Courser says it will "inoculate the herd" and "make anything else that comes out after that — that isn't a video — mundane, tame by comparison."

Graham, who reportedly declined to send the email, was fired weeks later, though it was not immediately clear whether the two things were connected.

Courser and Gamrat, both freshman, "rose from the ranks of Tea Party activism, battled establishment Republicans to win seats in the House last year and formed their own legislative coalition," according to the News.

Mlive.com, a Michigan news website, reports that Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter has ordered an investigation into the allegations that the two lawmakers used their offices and staff to cover up their relationship.

The website quotes Joan Fabiano of the Tea Party organization Grassroots in Michigan as saying, "I was shocked, extremely disappointed." But, she added, "I think the whole phenomena of picking out one or two individuals by the media and calling them the face of the Tea Party is erroneous. They're two people in the Tea Party, they don't represent the totality of the Michigan Tea Parties."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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