Franks abruptly quits Congress, hours after setting Jan. 31 resignation

Less than a day after he said he would resign on Jan. 31 in the face of a House ethics probe into possible sexual harassment, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, abruptly made his resignation effective immediately Friday. (Photo by Jessica Suerth/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, abruptly announced his immediate resignation from Congress Friday, just hours after he said he would step down Jan. 31 in the face of a House Ethics inquiry.

Franks’ office released a statement Friday saying he was quitting after his wife was admitted to the hospital for treatment of “an ongoing ailment.”

It came one day after the House Ethics Committee voted to investigate Franks for possible sexual harassment of female staffers, with whom he said he discussed his and his wife’s efforts to find a surrogate mother to carry a child for them.

Then Friday, the Associated Press reported that a former aide to Franks said he had approached her repeatedly about acting as a surrogate, and offered her up to $5 million to do so at one point. Franks’ office did not return requests for comment on that report Friday.

The resignation starts a clock, with the governor required to set dates for a special election to fill the seat within 72 hours of being officially notified of the vacancy. A special primary election will have to be held within 80 to 90 days and a special general election to fill the seat will have to be held 50 to 60 days after that.

Calls to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office were not immediately returned Friday, but a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan said the timeline would not change because of the sudden announcement – it would just begin the process sooner.

In announcing his resignation Thursday, Franks admitted discussing his and his wife’s use of a surrogate, because of their own fertility problems, to have their children. Franks said his discussions with staffers of subsequent attempts to find a surrogate “unbeknownst to me … made certain individuals uncomfortable.”

He insisted in the lengthy statement that he never coerced or had sexual contact with any staffer. But he said he decided to resign because he did not think he could get a fair hearing, given recent high-profile cases of entertainers, media and elected officials accused of sexual harassment.

But a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday said he told Franks he should resign after presenting the Glendale Republican with “credible claims of misconduct” that Franks did not deny.

In a terse statement Friday, Franks said his wife was admitted to a Washington, D.C., hospital “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,” the statement said.

Political experts called the twist “bizarre” and said it could hurt Republicans overall in Arizona next year, but will likely not jeopardize the chances of another GOP hopeful winning Franks? seat in the 8th District, which is heavily Republican. Franks, a staunch conservative and leader of the pro-life movement in the House, has held the seat for eight terms.

Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant, said Franks and his staff made the initial situation worse by not being forthright Thursday. An already “brutal” year for the GOP, with issues like school vouchers, President Donald Trump’s low favorability ratings and the general state of education in Arizona, is now much worse, he said.

“Congressman Franks obviously had a statement yesterday that was a bit too cute by half and violated the rule of getting all of the information out on the table, as uncomfortable as it may be,” Rose said Friday.

“What is now a tragic end to a career has now gotten downright weird. This just adds, in the state of Arizona, to this notion of cleaning house, enough of the Republicans,” Rose said. “It’s weird, it’s wrong and maybe it’s time for a change.”

Mike Noble, a consultant at MBQF Consulting, said he doubted Thursday’s announcement and felt the truth behind it was bound to come out eventually.

“The initial reason was suspect and as the media is starting to pull back the layers of this onion, I think there’s going to be more to what was initially thought,” Noble said.

“The rule of thumb in politics is to be as transparent as possible, because at the end of the day it’s a small chattering class and reporters seem to always find the truth one way or another,” he said.