Rep. Franks to resign after staff members' complaints of harassment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Representative Trent Franks said on Thursday he would resign after two female staffers complained that he had discussed surrogacy with them.

Franks, 60, who has been a member of Congress from Arizona since 2003, said in a statement that he would step down on Jan. 31.

The House of Representatives Ethics Committee said on Thursday it had opened an investigation into accusations of sexual harassment against Franks.

The congressman said he was resigning because coverage of the committee’s investigation in the “current cultural and media climate” would “damage those things I love most.”

Franks said he and his wife had struggled with infertility and sought a surrogate in order to have another child after they had twins with a surrogate.

“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,” Franks said.

“I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress,” he said.

Franks denied he ever “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan was briefed on the allegations on Nov. 29 and urged Franks to resign in a conversation the following day, Ryan’s office said in a statement.

“The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House,” the statement said.

Franks, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, represents Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, a mainly suburban area of Phoenix. He won re-election in 2016 with 68.5 percent of the vote. Republican President Donald Trump carried the district by 21 points last year.

Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey will call a special election to fill the seat. The nominating primary must be held between 80 and 90 days after the vacancy and the general election must be conducted 50 to 60 days after the primary, according to state law.

Numerous prominent men in U.S. politics, media and entertainment have been accused in recent months of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Earlier on Thursday, Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota said he would resign in a few weeks following allegations of sexual misconduct.

U.S. Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan resigned on Tuesday after accusations of sexual harassment were leveled against him.

Conyers denied the allegations, while Franken said some of the accusations against him were untrue and he remembered other incidents differently from his accusers. Reuters has not verified the allegations against either man.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney