The Trent Franks Story Doesn’t Add Up

Trent Franks (R-AZ) is the latest in a wave of abusive men to resign from office in the wave of sex abuse allegations rocking the nation. Similar resignations are cascading so thunderously that Franks’ will likely be drowned out and forgotten by the middle of the next week.

But it shouldn’t be. There is something deeply bizarre and untoward in the allegations against Franks that goes far beyond the banal serial exploitation we’ve seen from so many of these men. It’s not just that it seems ripped straight from the pages of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also that it doesn’t even make sense. The public deserves to know the full extent of Franks’ abuse, and it’s not yet clear that we have even an inkling of it.

Let’s start with what we supposedly know. Franks signaled his resignation after issuing the following statement:

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. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in
the workplace caused distress.

Elsewhere in his statement Franks revealed that he and his wife had had issues with infertility including miscarriage, and had used a surrogate to bear their previous children. In Franks’ telling, he simply made the mistake of asking staff if they would be willing to be surrogates for a third child. Now, this is still wildly inappropriate on its face: a person in a position of such enormous political power should never be making this sort of ask of subordinates. At the very least it would be abuse of power and a colossal error in judgment.

But, of course, the story got far worse as the day’s reporting progressed. It was soon made public that Franks had offered upwards of $5 million to one of his staff to serve as a surrogate. There is no reason to doubt the aide’s story, but it’s incredibly bizarre: the average cost for a surrogate mother is around $100,000. Why would Franks offer $5 million to an unwilling staffer for a service that a professional could offer for a tiny fraction of the cost?

Only moments later Politico reported what any rational person suspected from the beginning: that Franks never clarified whether the supposed surrogacy would occur through in-vitro fertilization or through sexual intercourse, and that the women were deeply concerned Franks was pushing them to have sex with him, with the goal of getting them pregnant.

That allegation on its own is a shocking self-parody of patriarchal abuse: a anti-choice Republican politician demanding sex from a much younger female employee to make her a breeding mare for his own family seems ripped from a bad political parable.

But even then there has to be more going on here. It still doesn’t make sense.

It’s been an open secret for years in the halls of Congress that Franks is a lout and a lecher, and that a drunken fratboy culture permeates throughout the men in his employ. It’s also no secret that an army of sex workers exists in the nation’s capital catering to men like him.

If Franks just wanted sex with younger women, that could be had discreetly in Washington for far less than $5 million, and without the risk of being exposed by his own staffers. But then again, Franks could have hired a dozen pregnancy surrogates for far less than $5 million, too, with no shame, risk or embarrassment at all.

Why offer a staffer $5 million for sex, surrogacy or both? It doesn’t add up. Was Franks offering to keep these staffers as permanent mistresses? Did he become sexually obsessed with them such that he was willing to pay any cost? Or was there something even darker involved?

This story shouldn’t die until we find out the real truth.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.