The sex-harassment scandals have ended the career of a conservative congressman who says his sin was discussing surrogate motherhood.
Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, announced Thursday that he was resigning from Congress, saying that he didn’t want to go through the way his actions would be distorted and leaked about in the current climate.
He said that he had learned that the House Ethics Committee was reviewing complaints about his discussions with two female aides about surrogate motherhood.
“We are in an unusual moment in history — there is a 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,” Mr. Franks said in a statement to The Washington Times.
“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,” he said.
Mr. Franks insisted that he has never molested or inappropriately touched a female staffer.
DOCUMENT: Trent Franks' statement on leaving Congress
The House Ethics Committee later announced it had opened an investigation of allegations Mr. Franks “engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office said the complaints against Mr. Franks were “credible” and the speaker had urged Mr. Franks to resign.
Mr. Franks’ resignation followed Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s announcement earlier Thursday that he would step down amid accusations from eight women that he had forcibly kissed or groped them.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, was the first casualty on Capitol Hill as a wave backlash against sexual harassment swept the country. Mr. Conyers, 88, resigned Tuesday after a series of woman accused him sexual misconduct that spanned decades.
Mr. Franks had not been publicly accused of misconduct.
A staunch social conservative, Mr. Franks pushed pro-life legislation and sponsored a House-passed bill that would make it a crime to perform an abortion after 20 weeks.
He said that a gestational surrogate, someone who is not biologically related to the child, gave birth to his and his wife’s twins. They were looking for another surrogate, he said.
“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,” Mr. Franks said, adding that he now understood that his discussions of surrogate motherhood had made the female staffers “uncomfortable.”
“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,” he said.
Mr. Franks continued, “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.”