Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) resigned from the House of Representatives Friday, citing his wife’s sudden hospitalization, despite announcing yesterday that he would wait to resign until January — just as details of the lawmaker’s inappropriate behavior with his female staff broke in the press.
The Associated Press reported that Franks offered a female staffer $5 million to serve as a surrogate for him and his wife, an allegation that is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. According to Politico’s reporting, some female aides were concerned that Franks, who is a staunch pro-life conservative and is against surrogacy procedures that discard embryos, was implying having sexual relations with his aides; it was not made clear to the staffers whether Franks meant in vitro fertilization or sexual intercourse.
There are more allegations against Franks, including a former staffer who “alleged that Franks tried to persuade a female aide that they were in love by having her read an article that described how a person knows they’re in love with someone,” Politico reported, and another staffer who said she was cut off from access to Franks after rebuffing his advances. Franks has denied both allegations.
“Last night, my wife was admitted to the hospital in Washington, D.C. due to an ongoing ailment,” Franks said in a statement Friday. “After discussing options with my family, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for our family now would be for me to tender my previous resignation effective today, December 8th, 2017.”
After learning of a congressional ethics investigation into these inappropriate conversations about surrogacy with his female staffers, Franks initially said he would resign from Congress in January.
“I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,” Franks said in a statement Thursday. “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
Franks cited infertility issues with his wife to explain the conversations he’d had with female staffers.
“Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” he said in the statement.
Reports of Franks’s resignation broke earlier in the day, but the Congress member refused to answer any questions regarding his decision. According to a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, Ryan was informed of the allegations against Franks last week, confronted Franks about them, filed the claims with the House Ethics Committee, and advised Franks to resign. Franks’s resignation will trigger a special election to fill the seat until the 2018 midterms.
In Franks’s statement, he said he did not feel that he would have been able to undergo a “fair” House Ethics Committee investigation in the current “cultural and media climate” surrounding workplace and sexual harassment. He said he believed the media would distort his story:
But in the midst of this current cultural and media climate, I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation. Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House Leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018.
Franks, who is a deeply conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members of Congress — he has previously compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust — is the third lawmaker to announce his resignation this week.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced earlier on Thursday that he would be leaving his seat in the coming weeks, amid sexual misconduct allegations from eight women. And Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) resigned on Tuesday, also over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
Congress has come under increased scrutiny lately as a breeding ground for harassment. The House and Senate recently took action to mandate sexual and workplace harassment training for all lawmakers and their staff. Several news reports have shown just how pervasive harassment is in the Washington power center, as current and former female members of Congress continue to come forward with their experiences being harassed by their male colleagues.
As sexual harassment awareness grows as a national flashpoint, all eyes are on the high-stakes, high-pressure environment in Congress, where the striking power imbalance between low-paid employees and the nation’s most powerful politicians all too often allows for unfettered corruption and misconduct.
“We are in an unusual moment in history — there is collective focus on a very important problem of justice and sexual impropriety. It is so important that we get this right for everyone, especially for victims,” Franks said in the statement.