Updated 7:24 pm | Arizona Republican Trent Franks said Thursday he is resigning from Congress effective Jan. 31 amid an Ethics Committee investigation into discussions he had with two female staffers about surrogacy.
In a lengthy statement Thursday evening, Franks said he and his wife struggled with fertility.
“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. “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
Rather than allowing “a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most,” he said he had notified House leadership he would resign effective Jan. 31.
Watch: Hill Sexual Misconduct Could Muddy 2018 Wave Potential
Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office said in a statement the speaker had accepted Franks’ resignation letter. Ryan was first briefed about the allegations Nov. 30. In a meeting with Franks the following day, he told the Arizona lawmaker he needed to step down and Ryan later referred the allegations to the House Ethics Committee.
“The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House,” Ryan’s office said.
Franks said that in “this current cultural and media climate,” he was “deeply convinced” he 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.”
The Arizona Republican said he had “absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
The Ethics Committee said in a press release that it unanimously voted Thursday to establish an investigative subcommittee to determine whether Franks “engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”
Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said Franks “did the right thing in stepping aside.”
“Congress should be held to the highest ethical standard,” he said. “This is a safe Republican seat, and we have no doubt it will stay in our column.”
Roll Call had reported on Frank’s retirement plans earlier Thursday, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.
The 8th District congressman initially did not confirm or deny plans to resign when approached outside his office earlier in the day. He only said he expected to make a statement later.
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.”
Franks was spotted on the House floor during votes Thursday evening, speaking with fellow Arizona Republicans Andy Biggs and David Schweikert. He was also spotted talking to North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, of which Franks is a member.
Franks was first elected to Congress in 2002 from the old 2nd District. He served a term in the state House in the 1980s. He made his fortune in the oil business and also founded a socially conservative think tank.
The deep-red 8th District, northwest of Phoenix, supported President Donald Trump by 21 points in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Franks won an eighth term last fall by 37 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.
According to Arizona state law, the governor will have to call a special election to fill the seat as Franks’ resignation would come more than 6 months before the next general election.
The governor is required to establish the date of the primary election within 72 hours of the seat being officially vacated. The primary election is to be held no less than 80 and no more than 90 days after the vacancy occurs. The general election must be held no less than 50 and no more than 60 days after the primary.