A day after Republican Rep. Trent Franks announced he would resign early next year, he abruptly stepped down Friday after a former aide told the Associated Press that he had offered her $5 million to act as a surrogate mother.
In making his departure effective immediately, the eight-term Arizona lawmaker bowed to an ultimatum from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan told Franks that he would refer allegations against him to the Ethics Committee and urged him to step aside.
The former staffer said the congressman asked at least four times if she'd be willing to act as a surrogate in exchange for money. Franks, in his statement announcing his resignation, said he and his wife had struggled with infertility and have twins who were carried through surrogacy.
The former aide said that the conversations took place in private, sometimes in the congressman's car, and that she repeatedly told him she wasn't interested.
She said that 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.
She cited the surrogacy requests as "a main reason" for leaving the office. After turning down the congressman, she said, she felt that Franks retaliated against her — ignoring her and giving her fewer assignments.
A spokesman for Franks would not comment on whether the congressman offered aides money to act as surrogates. Franks, a staunch conservative, said in his statement Thursday that he never physically intimidated, coerced or attempted to have sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff.
The surrogacy process typically involves removing an egg from the mother, fertilizing it with sperm from the father, then placing the fertilized egg in the uterus of the surrogate, who carries it to term.
Franks, 60, said he had become familiar with the surrogacy process in recent years and "became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others." He said he regrets that his "discussion of this option and process in the workplace" with two female staffers made them feel uncomfortable.
A senior congressional official said Ryan's general counsel was contacted about two weeks ago by someone with information about "troubling behavior" by Franks involving a former staffer.
Ryan's lawyer interviewed two women with similar complaints and verified them through a third party. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the deliberations.
Andrea Lafferty, president of Traditional Values Coalition, said she reported Franks' conduct to the speaker's office. 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 is one of three lawmakers who resigned last week as sexual misconduct allegations rocked the Capitol.
On Thursday, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), announced his resignation after facing allegations of sexual misconduct by at least eight women.
Franken said that some of those accusations were false and that he remembered other incidents differently than his accusers did.
He said he'd depart in a few weeks.