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Staffer: Franks offered $5M to be surrogate; congressman resigns immediately

Aides 'fretted Franks wanted to have sex to impregnate them'

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, abruptly announced his immediate resignation from Congress on Friday, just hours after he said he would step down Jan. 31 in the face of a House Ethics inquiry. Franks released a statement saying he was quitting after his wife was admitted to the hospital for treatment of "an ongoing ailment."

The Republican congressman's move came as the Associated Press reported that a former aide to Franks said he had offered her up to $5 million to act as a surrogate mother.

Former aides "fretted that Franks wanted to have sex to impregnate them," Politico reported.

From Politico:

The sources said Franks approached two female staffers about acting as a potential surrogate for him and his wife, who has struggled with fertility issues for years. But the aides were concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them. It was not clear to the women whether he was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization. Franks opposes abortion rights as well as procedures that discard embryos.

A former staffer also 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, the sources said. One woman believed she was the subject of retribution after rebuffing Franks. While she enjoyed access to the congressman before the incident, that access was revoked afterward, she told Republican leaders.

An aide told the AP that Franks "repeatedly pressed her to carry his child, at one point offering her $5 million to act as a surrogate mother."

From the Associated Press:

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The former aide said the conversations took place in private, sometimes in the congressman’s car, and that she repeatedly told him she wasn’t interested. She said she never filed a formal complaint because until recently she didn’t know where to go, but that his behavior had made her feel uncomfortable.

The Associated Press verified the identity of the staffer and confirmed that she worked in Franks’ office. She asked that her name be withheld out of concern for her privacy,.

“During my time there, I was asked a few times to look over a ‘contract’ to carry his child, and if I would conceive his child, I would be given $5 million,” she said, adding that she refused to look over the contract and has never seen a copy.

The woman said the requests shocked her, and made her feel afraid that if she didn’t agree, she would face professional consequences. She said she spoke to another aide in the office, who had also been approached about surrogacy.

***

A spokesman for Franks would not comment on whether the congressman offered aides money in exchange to act as surrogates.

***

Andrea Lafferty, President of Traditional Values Coalition, said she is the one who reported Franks’ conduct to the speaker’s office. Lafferty told AP that the former aide came to her about a year ago and told her about the surrogacy requests. Lafferty said she contacted Ryan’s office last month, after the staffer agreed to discuss the incident with leadership.

“I was approached last year about the situation, she came to me wanting some advice about how to handle this. She came to me shaking and sobbing, and she shared a story that I think is horrific, a powerful man hiring young women, procuring staff, to potentially surrogate children for him,” Lafferty said. “I accompanied (the former aide) to the meeting in the speaker’s office where she said Congressman Trent Franks offered her $5 million if she conceived him a child.”

Franks’ office did not return requests for comment on that report Friday.

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The resignation starts a clock, with the governor required to set dates for a special election to fill the seat within 72 hours of being officially notified of the vacancy. A special primary election will have to be held within 80 to 90 days and a special general election to fill the seat will have to be held 50 to 60 days after that.

Calls to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office were not immediately returned Friday, but a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan said the timeline would not change because of the sudden announcement – it would just begin the process sooner.

In a terse statement Friday, Franks said his wife was admitted to a Washington, D.C., hospital “due to an ongoing ailment.”

“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 8, 2017,” the statement said.

Political experts called the twist “bizarre” and said it could hurt Republicans overall in Arizona next year, but will likely not jeopardize the chances of another GOP hopeful winning Franks? seat in the 8th District, which is heavily Republican. Franks, a staunch conservative and leader of the pro-life movement in the House, has held the seat for eight terms.

Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant, said Franks and his staff made the initial situation worse by not being forthright Thursday. An already “brutal” year for the GOP, with issues like school vouchers, President Donald Trump’s low favorability ratings and the general state of education in Arizona, is now much worse, he said.

“Congressman Franks obviously had a statement yesterday that was a bit too cute by half and violated the rule of getting all of the information out on the table, as uncomfortable as it may be,” Rose said Friday.

“What is now a tragic end to a career has now gotten downright weird. This just adds, in the state of Arizona, to this notion of cleaning house, enough of the Republicans,” Rose said. “It’s weird, it’s wrong and maybe it’s time for a change.”

Mike Noble, a consultant at MBQF Consulting, said he doubted Thursday’s announcement and felt the truth behind it was bound to come out eventually.

“The initial reason was suspect and as the media is starting to pull back the layers of this onion, I think there’s going to be more to what was initially thought,” Noble said.

“The rule of thumb in politics is to be as transparent as possible, because at the end of the day it’s a small chattering class and reporters seem to always find the truth one way or another,” he said.

Earlier, from Thursday night:

Trent Franks to resign over ethics probe into asking staffers to bear his child

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a Maricopa County Republican, will resign after the House Ethics Committee began investigating his request of two female staffers that they be surrogate mothers to a child for him.

Franks acknowledged having asked two of his now-former employees if they were willing to be surrogates. Franks and his wife have had difficulties with infertility, he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told Franks to resign from Congress last week after being briefed on the allegations about the Arizona congressman, Ryan's office said.

Rather than face what he called a "sensationalized trial by media," Franks will leave Congress on Jan. 31, 2018, he said in a written statement. A special election early next year will determine a replacement through the end of the term, after next November's regular election cycle.

"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," he said.

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"My wife and I have long struggled with infertility. We experienced three miscarriages," Franks said, noting that his twin children were carried by a surrogate mother, and that another surrogate pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.

Franks said that the Ethics Committee was "reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates." While the House speaker told Franks he should resign last week, the congressman didn't announce his resignation until after the vote on the investigation.

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

"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," Franks said.

Franks' statement did not include any apology or other direct statement to the employees with whom he discussed carrying his child.

The two employees were not named, nor was the period in which they worked for Franks detailed.

"I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual conduct with any member of my congressional staff," he said.

"Last Wednesday, the speaker was briefed on credible claims of misconduct by Rep. Trent Franks," according to a statement from Ryan's office. "He found the allegations to be serious and requiring action. The next day, the speaker presented Rep. Franks with the allegations, which he did not deny. The speaker told Rep. Franks that he intended to refer the allegations directly to the House Ethics Committee and told him that he should resign from Congress. The allegations were filed with the Ethics Committee last Friday."

The leaders of the House Ethics Committee announced Thursday that the Arizona congressman was facing an investigation "to determine whether Rep. Trent Franks engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment."

The committee voted unanimously on Thursday to set up an investigative subcommittee to probe Franks' behavior.

From Ryan's office:

About two weeks ago, the general counsel to the speaker was contacted by a friend with information about troubling behavior by Rep. Trent Franks directed at a former staffer that took place at the time that this person worked in the congressman's office. The speaker’s general counsel believed the information was concerning and warranted examination. The speaker’s general counsel inquired whether the former staffer would be willing to share their story directly, and the person agreed. On Tuesday of last week, the speaker’s general counsel interviewed the former staffer, who shared claims of misconduct directed at this person as well as a second former staff member. The claim involving the second aide was validated independently by the speaker’s office through a third party who had been made aware of the matter at the time. The next day, the speaker was briefed. The following day, he brought the claims to Rep. Franks, and the next morning the complaint was filed with the Ethics Committee. Subsequent conversations took place this week between the speaker and Rep. Franks leading to the congressman’s decision to offer his letter of resignation.

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Earlier, Roll Call broke the news that Franks was set to resign, citing "rumors of inappropriate behavior."

It is unclear exactly why Franks is stepping down, but one Arizona Republican said there had been rumors of inappropriate behavior. The Republican said the congressman had apparently been making plans to run for Senate in 2012, but abruptly canceled those plans.

“There’s been rumors swirling around him for years, at least in 2012,” the Republican said. “And if this turns out to be true, there won’t be that many people who are surprised.”

The news about Franks comes the same day that U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced that he would resign soon in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., also announced his resignation over sexual harassment claims this week.

Franks has avoided commenting on the ongoing wave of accusations of harassment, including not commenting on the Senate candidacy of Roy Moore.

Franks, first elected to Congress in 2002, represents a solidly Republican swath northwest of Phoenix in CD 8. He won his eighth term by 37 points.

The rightwing conservative — a member of the Freedom Caucus — has been among the most crusading anti-abortion members of Congress, authoring numerous bills to limit reproductive choice.

In 2013, he notoriously claimed that the "incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low," as he pushed a bill that limited abortions without an exception for victims of rape or incest.

He is also among the richest members of Congress, with a net worth of between $5 and $54 million, according to financial disclosures. Much of his wealth is related to his oil industry holdings, including in Trinity Petroleum, a company run by his two brothers.

With Franks leaving his seat, a special election will be called to replace him.

Franks’ announcement sets up what one analyst said could be a “Wild West free-for-all” race for a solidly Republican 8th District congressional seat. Republicans made up 41 percent of registered voters in the district, according to the latest registration numbers from the Arizona Secretary of State, compared to 24 percent for Democrats and 34 percent for independents.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan said in a tweet Thursday that, once the vacancy becomes official, state elections law says a special primary election will have to be held within 80-90 days, followed by a special general election 50-60 days after that.

She said that once the House officially reports a vacant seat to the state, the governor’s office will have 72 hours to announce the dates for those elections. Calls to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office were not immediately returned.

Most political watchers said they were surprised by the announcement, but not by the decision amid the current furor over sexual harassment in the workplace.

Jim Kolbe, a former Republican member of Congress from Tucson, said he was surprised and saddened by the news.

“Obviously I’m very saddened when any member feels they have to resign for whatever reasons,” Kolbe said. “But that’s his decision, his choice.

“I had no idea there was any reason he might resign. He was certainly moving up through the ranks with a chairmanship in a subcommittee, so this is quite a surprise,” Kolbe said.

As Republicans scramble to field primary candidate for the upcoming special election (already mentioned have been state Sens. Debbie Lesko and Kimberly Yee, former Gov. Jan Brewer and Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat), a Democratic challenger was already in the running. Hiral Tipirneni raised more than $165,000 during the third quarter of 2017, more than Franks' campaign had pulled in.

Reaction from the Arizona Republican Party was muted.

"We thank Congressman Franks for his years of service in Arizona's Eighth Congressional District," state party chair Jonathan Lines said in a news release. "There will be a special election to replace Congressman Franks, and I am certain Republicans will hold this seat."

Lines did not comment on Franks' conduct.

Democrats, on the other hand, blasted the GOP congressman.

"Let's be clear, Trent Franks finds himself out of a job, not only because of his inappropriate behavior, but because he was cowardly unwilling to go down a path where he'd be proven a complete fraud," said Herschel Fink, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party.

"His resignation statement is an affront to the brave women coming forward with their stories. Trying to spin his way out of his inappropriate actions is not only sad, it's disgraceful," Fink said in a statement released by the state party.

"Let's not prolong this any further, congressman," Fink said. "Leave now. Save taxpayers their money. And just avoid further embarrassing the good people of Congressional District 8."

Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant, said he was stunned by the news.

“Congressman Franks is one of those people who loved his job immensely, who appreciated being there and who you always thought would probably leave Congress in a box,” Rose said.

He predicted a rush of candidates will seek the seat.

“It is going to be a Wild West free-for-all for that seat because it’s such a safe Republican district,” Rose said. “It’s a jewel of a district for anyone who wants to be in Congress for a long period of time.”

That was echoed by Mike Noble, a consultant at MBQF Consulting, who said any Republican running for another state office may rethink their plans to take a shot at Franks’ open seat. He predicted state legislators would soon be in a “race to plant their flag first.”

“This is just like Flake’s announcement, the whole political landscape has shifted,” Noble said, referring to Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s surprise announcement in October that he will not seek re-election in 2018. “It’s absolutely a free-for-all.”

“He is the longest-serving Republican incumbent in Arizona currently and nobody was even thinking about that as an option but now it has completely turned the tables,” Noble said.

Cronkite News reporter Adrienne St. Clair contributed to this story. Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified political analyst Jason Rose’s firm. Rose is a Republican political consultant. 


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Stephanie Snyder/Cronkite News Service

Franks in 2012.