Joe Barton, Senior Republican, Caught in Storm Over Explicit Photo

WASHINGTON — The heightened scrutiny of sexual impropriety on Capitol Hill has swept up a senior House Republican who apologized Wednesday for a sexually explicit photograph that wound up on the internet and raised the possibility that he had been the victim of a crime.

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, who was once the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is now its vice chairman, said that he was reconsidering his political future after the photograph appeared on an anonymous Twitter account.

Mr. Barton, who has hired a crisis communications firm, made clear he was ready for a fight. In a statement Wednesday night, he said that he had suffered “a potential crime.” A Texas law, the so-called revenge pornography law, makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally publicize images or videos of someone’s genitals or sexual activity without consent.

Hours after his initial apology, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Barton, 68, had threatened in 2015 to report to the Capitol Police a woman with whom he had shared explicit photographs, videos and messages if she exposed him.

The woman, who spoke anonymously, shared with The Post a recorded phone conversation in which the congressman confronted her about communications she had with other women connected to Mr. Barton, including sexually explicit material he had shared with her.

Mr. Barton did not dispute the woman’s account. But in his statement, he said that she “threatened to publicly share my private photographs and intimate correspondence in retaliation” when he ended their relationship.

“Today, the Capitol Police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation and I have accepted,” he said. “Because of the pending investigation, we will have no further comment.”

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In his earlier statement, Mr. Barton had said that while separated from his wife, he had “sexual relationships with other mature adult women.”

“Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended,” he said. “I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”

The photograph of a naked Mr. Barton, with his genitals obscured before it was posted, set off waves of speculation in Texas and Washington, where sexual harassment charges are roiling Capitol Hill. The tweets, which appeared Monday, included an image of a sexually explicit text message, ostensibly sent by Mr. Barton, along with a cryptic reference to harassment.

In addition to the recorded phone conversation, The Post reported that the woman had shared messages she exchanged with the congressman and a cellphone video of the congressman masturbating. The Post, which reviewed the video, said the photograph posted on Tuesday appeared to be a still shot from the video.

It was not clear why the photograph was posted. The woman who spoke with The Post said she had not put the image on Twitter herself. Lawmakers called and texted one another Tuesday night and Wednesday morning trying to discern whether the photograph was authentic, but received no guidance from the party’s leadership or Mr. Barton.

Direct messages sent to the Twitter account that posted the image have not been returned.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, said Wednesday afternoon that Mr. Ryan had spoken to Mr. Barton on the matter but would “keep those conversations between the two of them.”

Mr. Barton is the longest-serving member of the Texas congressional delegation and was the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman when President George W. Bush was in the White House.

He had lowered his sights more recently, telling associates that he hoped to claim the investigatory subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce panel. That subcommittee chairmanship is currently vacant because its most recent chairman, Representative Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania, resigned last month after it was revealed that he had encouraged his mistress to seek an abortion.

Unlike other veteran lawmakers who have retired after their time atop influential committees has come to an end, Mr. Barton had shown no interest in leaving Congress.

“I’m the odd duck who didn’t quit,” he joked to The Dallas Morning News in an interview this month.

His personal life has been more turbulent than his political career. He divorced his first wife in 1993 and his second wife two years ago.

Mr. Barton has young children from his second marriage, and one of them, his 10-year-old son, was at the congressional baseball practice this year when a man sprayed the field with bullets, gravely injuring Representative Steve Scalise. Mr. Barton is the longtime coach of the Republican baseball team.

Democrats were not planning to aggressively contest Mr. Barton’s conservative-leaning seat: His best-funded challenger, Jana Lynne Sanchez, had only $16,440 on hand as of the start of October.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s