PHOENIX -- Congressman Trent Franks said Thursday he is resigning from the U.S. House ahead of an Ethics Committee investigation stemming from his discussion with two female staffers about the possibility of surrogacy.
Franks said the discussions may have made each "feel uncomfortable." And in a prepared statement he said he has done nothing wrong.
But Franks, first elected to Congress in 2012, said he is quitting to avoid going through a full-blown investigation and hearing, saying that "distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation."
Franks also said that by leaving at the end of January he would avoid "a sensationalized trial by media."
He sought to distinguish his situation from complaints against other members of Congress, saying he has "absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff."
But while Franks said he had done nothing he believes merits an investigation, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he found "credible claims of misconduct."
In a statement, Ryan's office said he presented Franks with the allegations, "which he did not deny." Ryan also told Franks he intended to refer the allegations to the Ethics Committee "and told him that he should resign from Congress," the speaker's office said.
The resignation sets the stage for a special election sometime next year to fill out the balance of the term that runs through the end of 2018. The district leans heavily Republican.
Whoever is elected would have the option of seeking his or her party's nomination in August to be on the general election ballot in November.
In his statement, Trent said he and his wife, Josephine, "have long struggled with infertility," with three miscarriages.
He said adoption plans did not pan out. But a "wonderful and loving lady" was a "gestational surrogate" who carried twins successfully to live birth.
A second attempt at surrogacy resulted in a miscarriage.
"We continued to have a desire to have at least one additional sibling, for which our children had made repeated requests," Franks said. The congressman said that his familiarity and experience with the process made him "insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others" as he discussed the option with two women who used to work for him.
"I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress," Franks said.
Franks has built a reputation, both in Congress and in the Legislature before that, as an ardent foe of abortion. He has championed federal legislation to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.
During the 2013 debate on that legislation, Franks caused a stir when he told the House Judiciary Committee that "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."
He also was a key sponsor of state legislation to give people dollar-for-dollar credits against their state income taxes for money donated to organizations that help children attend private and parochial schools.