Suggesting he's a victim of revenge porn from a jilted lover, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas says he plans to go silent about the release of a nude photo of him online because police are investigating the disclosure as a possible crime against him. Authorities have not confirmed an investigation.
The 68-year-old Barton, who joined the House in 1985, has acknowledged sharing intimate material with a lover and accused her of threatening to make it public when he ended the relationship. The unidentified woman told The Washington Post that she did not put it online and said the congressman sought to intimidate her by threatening to go to the authorities if she exposed his conduct.
The he said-she said dispute erupted in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations drawing in several other members of Congress as well as Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who is accused of disrobing a 14-year-old girl. The consequences for Barton are not immediately apparent aside from his mortification: The relationship with the woman was evidently consensual.
The Post published details of a secretly recorded conversation between Barton and his lover from 2015 in which he threatened to "take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation" if she did not agree to keep "inappropriate photographs and video" that he had exchanged with her from becoming public. He said she had already shared material with other women with whom he had been involved.
In a statement after that report, Barton said the "Capitol Police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation and I have accepted. Because of the pending investigation, we will have no further comment." He said the woman's comments on the tape could be evidence of a "potential crime against me."
Capitol Police have not said whether they have begun an investigation. A message left by The Associated Press at Barton's district office in Arlington, Texas, was not returned. The voicemail for his office in Washington was full.
Making explicit images available without the subject's permission is a felony in the District of Columbia and a Class A misdemeanor in Texas under revenge porn laws passed several years ago. More than 30 other states have such a law; there is no corresponding federal law.
These laws have historically protected women whose boyfriends or spouses publish or publicize nude or embarrassing photos sent to them privately while they were in relationships. The jurisdiction responsible in this episode could depend on where the photos were taken or where they were put online.
In a portion of the recorded conversation, the woman asked Barton what he would tell police if he went to them.
His reply: "I would tell them that I had a three-year undercover relationship with you over the Internet that was heavily sexual and that I had met you twice while married and had sex with you on two different occasions and that I exchanged inappropriate photographs and videos with you that I wouldn't like to be seen made public, that you still apparently had all of those and were in position to use them in a way that would negatively affect my career. That's the truth."
Barton is the longest-serving congressman in Texas and his seat has always been considered reliably safe for Republicans.
The photo of Barton appeared on an anonymous Twitter account. It was not immediately known who posted the photo or when it was taken.
Barton issued an initial statement saying that while separated from his second wife, prior to their divorce in 2015, he had sexual relationships "with other mature adult women." Barton said each relationship was consensual and has since ended.
"I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down," Barton said.
Barton, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, announced his re-election bid this month. His district includes several counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Barton was a consultant in the oil and gas industry before he was elected to Congress.
He is currently the vice chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. He was the committee's chairman from 2004 to 2007.
Barton has also been the longtime manager of the GOP congressional baseball team. He was taking part in a team practice in June when a gunman opened fire, injuring another congressman and others.
Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.