Arizona Republican Trent Franks Resigns After Ethics Committee Announces Investigation Into His Conduct
On Thursday, a third congressman announced his impending resignation in the midst of sexual harassment allegations. Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks said he would leave office on Jan. 31, 2018, after the House Ethics Committee decided to launch an inquiry into claims that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers.
"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. "I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress."
Franks described difficulties he and his wife have had conceiving children, and said that because of his familiarity with how surrogacy works, he "clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others."
Franks did not deny that he had a conversation about surrogacy with female staffers. Instead, he said he was resigning because he believes that a public investigation and trial would be harmful to him and his family:
I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized version of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation.
Before the announcement was made Thursday evening, Franks was reportedly seen in deep discussion with several other congressmen, including fellow Arizona Republicans Andy Biggs and David Schweikert. According to Politico reporter Jake Sherman, it appeared at one point in the evening that several House Republicans gathered around Franks in a prayer circle. Franks was then seen wiping his eyes before leaving the floor.
Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan said he told Franks about the allegations made against him and suggested that he resign in light of "credible claims of misconduct." According to a statement released by Rep. Ryan's office, he was made aware of allegations against Franks on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Ryan confronted Franks with the allegations the following day, informing the Representative that "he intended to refer the allegations directly to the House Ethics Committee and told him that he should resign from Congress."
The former staffers at the heart of the accusations have not been named. According to Ryan's office, Ryan's general counsel heard about allegations against Franks from a friend. The counsel then interviewed one of the women, who recounted the discussions she and another aide had with Franks regarding surrogacy, which made she and the other woman uncomfortable. When these stories were corroborated, the counsel informed Ryan of the allegations, and Ryan then conveyed the allegations to Franks and the House Ethics Committee.
"I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff," Franks said in his resignation statement. "However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable."
Franks has been in office since 2002 and has built a reputation for being a hardline social conservative. As a congressman, he was known for co-sponsoring anti-abortion legislation. (His website describes "abortion on demand" as "the the greatest genocide known to mankind in the history of this planet.") He also does not believe law-abiding citizens should have their right to bear arms "monitored or restricted by the government."
The part of Phoenix which Franks represents is a Republican-leaning district that supported President Donald Trump in last year's presidential election. In light of his resignation, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey will be required to declare a special election primary within 72 hours of Franks leaving his post.
Earlier on Thursday, Sen. Al Franken announced his upcoming resignation from Congress after seven women accused him of sexual misconduct over the course of three weeks, beginning on Nov. 16. (Franken disputed some details, but also apologized, saying that, "we have to listen to women and respect what they say.") Two days prior, Rep. John Conyers also tendered his resignation after six former subordinates and affiliates accused him of sexual harassment. (Conyers "expressly and vehemently denied" the allegations.)
In his announcement regarding Franks' resignation, Ryan said he "takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House."