Arizona GOP lawmaker resigns over surrogacy allegation

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(Source: CNN) (Source: CNN)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said Thursday he is resigning next month after revealing that he discussed surrogacy with two female staffers.

The eight-term lawmaker, a staunch conservative and fierce opponent of abortion, said in a statement that he never physically intimidated, coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff.

Instead, he says, the dispute resulted from a discussion of surrogacy. Franks and his wife have 3-year-old twins who were conceived through surrogacy.

Franks says he had become familiar with the surrogacy process in recent years, and "became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others."

He said he regrets that his "discussion of this option and process in the workplace" with two female staffers made them feel uncomfortable.

In a statement, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that when he learned of the allegations, which he considered "serious and requiring action," he told the lawmaker he should resign.

Franks said he would step down effective Jan. 31, 2018.

In a one-page statement late Thursday, the Ethics panel said its members were examining whether Franks "engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment." The statement provided no further detail and noted that while it was establishing an ethics subcommittee, that didn't mean that any violations of law or House rules had occurred.

Franks was seen being comforted in the House chamber by several other Republicans. They included Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, Alabama's Robert Aderholt and fellow Arizonan Andy Biggs.

Asked for comment as he left the floor, Franks said, "I'll let the statement speak for itself."

Franks has been a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. He's a staunch social conservative who sponsored House-passed legislation to make it a crime for any person to perform an abortion if the age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.

Earlier Thursday, liberal Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced his resignation after facing allegations of sexual harassment by at least eight women. Franken said some of those accusations were false and said he remembered others differently than his accusers did. He said he'd depart in a few weeks.

On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned effective immediately. He also faced accusations from women of improper sexual behavior that he's contesting.

Franks drew a sharp response from Democrats during a 2013 House committee debate when he said "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low." He sought to clarify the comment, saying later-term abortions linked to pregnancies caused by rape are infrequent.

He's a strong backer of President Donald Trump and has embraced some of his stances on social issues. Franks has harshly criticized some NFL players for not standing during the national anthem, calling them "arrogant and overpaid Lilliputians who dishonor America."

Franks represents a district encompassing suburbs north and west of Phoenix. He serves on the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees.

Before winning election to Congress, he served in the Arizona legislature and founded the Arizona Family Research Institute, an organization associated with Dr. James Dobson's "Focus on the Family." The institute advocates for policies designed to protect children and families.

Rep. Trent Franks statement on leaving Congress:

"I have always tried to create a very warm and supportive atmosphere for every last person who has ever worked in my congressional office. It is my deepest conviction that there are many staffers, former and present, who would readily volunteer to substantiate this fact.

"Given the nature of numerous allegations and reports across America in recent weeks, I want to first make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.

"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. And so, I want to shed light on how those conversations came about.

"My wife and I have long struggled with infertility. We experienced three miscarriages.

    "We pursued adoption on more than one occasion only to have the adoptive mothers in each case change their mind prior to giving birth.

    "A wonderful and loving lady, to whom we will be forever grateful, acted as a gestational surrogate for our twins and was able to carry them successfully to live birth. The process by which they were conceived was a pro-life approach that did not discard or throw away any embryos.

    "My son and daughter are unspeakable gifts of God that have brought us our greatest earthly happiness in the 37 years we have been married.

    "When our twins were approximately 3 years old, we made a second attempt with a second surrogate who was also not genetically related to the child. Sadly, that pregnancy also resulted in miscarriage.

    "We continued to have a desire to have at least one additional sibling, for which our children had made repeated requests.

    "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.

    "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. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.

    "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.

    "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. It is with the greatest sadness, that for the sake of the causes I deeply love, I must now step back from the battle I have spent over three decades fighting. I hope my resignation will remain distinct from the great gains we have made. My time in Congress serving my constituents, America and the Constitution is and will remain one of God's greatest gift to me in life."

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