Republican quits US Congress amid reports of US$5 million staff surrogacy request
Eight-term lawmaker Trent Franks announced he would resign immediately
Arizona Republican lawmaker Trent Franks offered a female staff member US$5 million if she would bear his child, said a woman who helped bring the matter to the attention of House leaders, prompting Franks’ immediate resignation on Friday.
Andrea Lafferty said she encouraged the Franks aide, who had left his office after the alleged conduct, to bring the story to the attention of the House Republican leadership and was present when the aide was interviewed last week by House lawyers.
“He offered her US$5 million if she would conceive a child, that is what she told,” said Lafferty, who is president of the Traditional Values Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes social conservative views shared by Franks.
The woman told investigators that Franks had approached her with papers that he described as a written contract for her to review, Lafferty said: “She didn’t want any part of it, and she rejected that.”
After rejecting Franks’ advances, the woman said, she felt sidelined within his office and eventually left, according to Lafferty.
Lafferty declined to put a Washington Post reporter in touch with the former aide on Friday. The woman spoke earlier in the day to Associated Press, telling the news agency that she “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 US$5 million”.
On Thursday, the House Ethics Committee said it would create a special subcommittee to investigate Franks for conduct “that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment”.
After that announcement Thursday, Franks said he would resign at the end of January. But on Friday, Franks said he would immediately step down, citing his wife’s hospitalisation Thursday “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,” Franks said in a statement.
The Ethics Committee investigation came after House officials learned that Franks had asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate. House Speaker Paul Ryan, was briefed on the allegations last week after a short investigation and asked Franks to resign the following day, the speaker’s office said.
Lafferty said the woman was not aware of the official channels to register a complaint with House authorities and said she encouraged her to approach House leadership when she was ready to come forward with her account.
The conduct took place within the past two years, Lafferty said.
“She wasn’t aware of the office she could go to, and, frankly, I wasn’t really either,” Lafferty said. “I knew the speaker’s office and the leadership would care about this issue. She met with them. They heard her concerns, they investigated it, they found it to be truthful, and the rest is history.”
Franks acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that the investigation concerned his “discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable”.
While Franks’ statement did not detail the circumstances of the “discussion”, three Republican officials familiar with the allegations said that he had asked the staffers if they would serve as a surrogate mother for his child. The women worked for him at the time but have since left his office, the officials said.
Lafferty said she was aware of allegations from one other former Franks aide but had not directly spoken to that woman.
Franks said he 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, unbeknown to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable,” Franks said.
“I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
Asked about Lafferty’s claims, Franks pointed to his statement. “Absolutely accurate,” he said in a text message.
Franks, who was first elected to the House in 2002, was among the most outspoken social conservatives in Congress. He authored or co-sponsored numerous bills seeking to restrict abortions, including bills that would ban the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He also belonged to the House Freedom Caucus, a hardline group that has often clashed with Republican leaders.
Lafferty said she was struck by what she called the hypocrisy of Franks’ conduct.
“Offering someone five million bucks is not a discussion of surrogacy,” she said. “Trent Franks says that he is a Christian and a conservative. I’m a Christian and conservative. What he did offends me. It’s not Christian, and it’s not conservative.”
Franks, 60, said in his statement that he and his wife have long struggled with infertility. After having twins with a surrogate, the couple sought additional children, he said.
In an undated testimonial posted on the website of a California urology and fertility clinic, Franks said he and his wife had “struggled to have children for over 20 years” before having his twins with the clinic’s help. A spokesman for Franks confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
“We made three efforts to adopt babies from mothers in crisis pregnancy who had chosen to give their child life rather than to abort,” he said, but each mother ultimately chose to keep her child.
“After our third failure to adopt, and with many failed assisted fertility attempts, we very sadly concluded that we would never have children of our own.”
On Thursday, Franks said in his statement that after his twins were born, he and his wife “continued to have a desire to have at least one additional sibling, for which our children had made repeated requests” – leading to the surrogacy discussions with his employees.
“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.