Rep. Trent Franks

Rep. Trent Franks

WASHINGTON – Eight-term lawmaker Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., is resigning from Congress effectively immediately, after being pressured to step down by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Franks was informed Thursday that the House Ethics Committee had opened an investigation into allegations of “sexual harassment” against him from two female former staffers.

However, unlike in the cases of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Sen. John Conyers, D.-Mich., or for that matter former President Bill Clinton, Franks’ “sexual harassment” and “inappropriate behavior” did not consist of exposing himself, fondling, groping, molesting, threatening, assaulting or raping his staffers.

Rather, Franks is accused of – and has apologized for – asking two female staffers if they would be willing to serve as paid surrogates for the purpose of gestating children for Franks and his wife, who have fertility problems and have successfully employed a surrogate in the past. One of the two former staffers says Franks offered her $5 million to act as a surrogate.

Few people seem familiar with surrogacy, which became one of the top online search terms Friday.

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Thus, while one news report Friday suggested the two aides were “concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them” – adding “it was not clear to the women whether he was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization” – a lawyer representing a surrogacy law firm explained to WND that surrogacy has absolutely “nothing to do with sex.”

“There is nothing sexual about it,” the attorney, who asked that her name be withheld from publication, told WND. “If someone claims they felt sexually harassed [by the conversation], it’s just a simple matter of maybe both parties aren’t educated or even knew what they were talking about.”

“I don’t even know about this congressman,” she said of the Franks controversy, but “if an individual feels sexually harassed by someone asking for them to be a surrogate, that would mean they didn’t understand what being someone’s surrogate or gestational carrier really means. There’s a lot of people who don’t even know what surrogacy means, so that wouldn’t be super shocking.”

Surrogacy is a strictly clinical procedure, explained the attorney, who handles contracts with egg donors.

“If somebody is going to be your surrogate, that absolutely does not mean that you are going to have sex, or even any physical contact whatsoever, that’s just a fact of the matter. A clinic would be involved and they would go through psychological screening. Whoever is going to be the surrogate would have to go through extensive screening to actually be cleared to enter into an IVF clinic where the embryo would be transferred. And she is literally just the carrier of that baby.”

Most couples reach out to family members, or individuals they feel close to, to become surrogates, the attorney explained, or else they find surrogates among friends because finding gestational carriers through an agency can be extremely costly.

“There’s many ways that people can find surrogates. If somebody is going through infertility and they want to find someone that will carry a baby for them, you can ask a family member, a friend. People go online. Most people use an agency that is very versed in surrogacy and can help the process so it’s handled professionally and properly. There are so many people that work independently.”

Ryan first demanded that the well-liked Freedom Caucus conservative resign Thursday, Nov. 30, after one of the House speaker’s aides was contacted with information about “troubling behavior” Franks had engaged in with a former staffer. The speaker’s general counsel interviewed the ex-staffer. The counsel then corroborated the alleged conduct against a second aide, prompting Ryan to file a complaint with the Ethics Committee the next day, according to his office.

After having twins with a surrogate, Franks and his wife – who have struggled with infertility, having suffered three miscarriages – wanted more children. Franks approached the staffers as potential surrogates.

Franks released a statement announcing his resignation, admitting to having had the discussions regarding possible surrogacy with his staffers, but adamantly denying anything sexual, either in word or deed.

“I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff,” Franks insisted. “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.”

Franks allowed that, since he and his wife had used a surrogate previously to give birth to their twins, and then used another surrogate to have another child but which effort resulted in a miscarriage, perhaps his long familiarity with the surrogacy process caused him to become “insensitive” to how talk of the matter could affect others. “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress,” said Franks.

Some commentators have questioned Ryan’s role in pushing so hard for the resignation of Franks, one of the House’s most reliable pro-life conservatives. Powerline political commentator and attorney Paul Mirengoff suspects Ryan forced Franks to resign for politically opportunistic reasons:

Ryan explained that he “takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House.” That’s great. Where, though, is the evidence that Franks created an unsafe workplace?

Did Ryan push Franks out because he wanted to grandstand – to one-up Nancy Pelosi, who was slow to pull the trigger on the odious John Conyers? Did Ryan push Franks out because Franks, an arch-conservative and member of the Freedom Caucus, is a thorn in his side? I don’t know, but the questions are legitimate, it seems to me.”

While Franks’ conduct was “inappropriate,” says Mirengoff, the Arizona congressman did not sexually harass his staffers and its imperative Congress make the distinction clear.

“His request may not have created a hostile work environment, but it must have created a strange and uncomfortable one, at least for a time. However, assuming Franks didn’t seek sexual relations with his staffers and didn’t pressure them, his inappropriate requests do not strike me as sufficient reason for him to leave the House. Franks says he did neither of these things and, so far, I’ve seen no indication to the contrary,” he wrote. “Not all inappropriate conduct towards women justifies dismissal. If Congress doesn’t figure this out soon, we will see a mass exodus.”

Top conservative commentators sounded off about Franks’ resignation on Twitter, arguing the congressman should not be forced to stop down for inquiring about a medical procedure.

Last week, several women who allege former President Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them called for Congress to release the names of members of the House of Representatives who have paid off their sexual-harassment victims with a mysterious, tax-funded “hush fund.”

Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Leslie Milwee, all of whom claim Clinton dramatically changed their lives, jeopardized their careers and tarnished their reputations after sexually assaulting them – particularly Broaddrick, who credibly accused Clinton of forcible rape – blasted Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for withholding the identities of members who have settled their harassment claims with taxpayer dollars.

A spokesman for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the governor will probably make an announcement Monday regarding when a special election will be held for a midterm replacement for Franks.

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