Conservative Rep. Franks Resigning as Ethics Probe Launched Into Harassment Allegations

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) speaks with a reporter on Capitol Hill on March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

WASHINGTON — A conservative member of the House announced his resignation today after the Ethics Committee opened an investigation into sexual harassment allegations.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, issued a statement saying he’s “always tried to create a very warm and supportive atmosphere for every last person who has ever worked in my congressional office,” and has “absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”

Franks said he took “full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable,” and described infertility problems in his marriage. “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.”

The congressman said he didn’t feel he could complete the ethics investigation process without “hyperbolized public excoriation” of himself, his family and staff. His resignation is effective Jan. 31.

The Ethics Committee unanimously voted today to open an investigation “to determine whether Representative Trent Franks engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office said he was briefed last week “on credible claims of misconduct” by Franks and “found the allegations to be serious and requiring action.” Ryan confronted 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,” Ryan’s office said. “The allegations were filed with the Ethics Committee last Friday. And today, the speaker accepted a letter of resignation. The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House.”

The claims involved two former staffers whose stories were shared with and probed by Ryan’s general counsel.

The Arizona Republic said Franks did not answer a request from the newspaper last week asking whether he had been involved in any sexual harassment settlements. Roll Call reported that rumors of inappropriate behavior from Franks may have been linked to his decision to pull out of a 2012 Senate run.

The Ethics Committee also said it’s continuing a 2015 probe into Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), saying new evidence warranted investigation. In the federal court filing back then, former communications director Lauren Greene said the congressman said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. Greene claimed Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.” She said she was retaliated against after complaining.

Farenthold said this week he’d repay $84,000 in taxpayer funds used to settle Greene’s claim. “I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” he said.

“Over the last two weeks, more information has been disclosed about the nature of the settlement between the parties,” the Ethics Committee said. “In addition, both Representative Farenthold and the Complainant have publicly expressed an interest in increased transparency in this matter. In light of these developments, the Committee has determined that it is appropriate to establish an Investigative Subcommittee to continue its investigation.”