Joe Barton apologizes for explicit photo, but doesn't plan to resignNovember 22, 2017 10:31pm

Nov. 22-- WASHINGTON-Rep. Joe Barton is apologizing Wednesday for a sexually explicit nude photo now circulating online, but doesn't plan to resign.

In a statement released to The Dallas Morning News, the longtime Texas Republican said the image-which first surfaced on social media earlier this week-was taken in recent years while separated from his former wife.

"While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women," Barton, who is twice-divorced, said in the statement. "Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down."

His spokeswoman later told The News that he has no plans to step down. Legal questions also have emerged over whether Barton is the victim of a crime.

Barton's acknowledgment comes after a whirlwind of speculation about the photo and what it means for his political future. Barton, the longest-serving member of the Texas House delegation, just recently announced his 18th congressional campaign.

Earlier this week, a social media account on Twitter posted an image of what appears to be a nude or partially nude man, now known to be Barton, in a sexually suggestive posture. Parts of his anatomy were blurred out with blue scribble lines.

The Twitter user who initially posted the photo has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The News. It's unclear how the person obtained the image, or why it was brought forward now.

Barton detractors retweeted the photo and, within a day, political insiders were buzzing. State lawmakers were already talking about seeking his seat, and pundits placed Barton on a watch list Tuesday night as a potential retirement in 2018.

On Wednesday, Barton, 68, told The Texas Tribune that he's "talking to a number of people, all of whom I have faith in and am deciding how to respond, quite frankly."

Barton, a House Freedom Caucus member who represents Congressional District 6, has not said whether he intends to drop out of the 2018 race.

He faces a handful of Democratic competitors in a red district stretching from Arlington through southern Tarrant County and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. He was expected to have another easy victory. Last year, he easily defeated Democrat Ruby Faye Woolridge by 19 percentage points, 58-39.

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Pilot Point Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican, told The News that the story is "disturbing."

"Moving forward, I expect for Mr. Barton to make the correct decision for his constituents and his family. I am saddened for everyone involved," he said.

Burgess, notably, didn't say what the correct decision is.

One of Barton's Democratic challengers was more charitable, calling the issue a "distraction" from more pressing matters.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, a former journalist and now a small-business owner, said that while "I don't ever want to see a picture like that again in my life," the Republican has apologized for "poor judgment."

"I'm not going to get in the gutter and fight over personal behavior," she continued, adding: "This is a distraction and we need to be talking about health care, education and jobs."

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Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has long tracked Barton's career, said that barring new and damning information, the episode is "more embarrassing than anything else."

But it does raise questions about the motivation behind releasing the images, he said, whether the work of a potential primary opponent, political enemy or a former lover.

Barton's spokeswoman said they have "no information" on the source of the images, or how the photos were obtained.

The lawmaker has already had a trying year. The longtime manager of the GOP congressional baseball team was among those on the field when a gunman opened fire last June.

The photo comes at a particularly delicate time, as Congress and the nation grapple with the issue of sexual harassment, with a number of lawmakers accused of unwanted sexual contact in recent weeks.

But Barton said the image was taken in a consensual relationship-a point quickly raised by people across the political spectrum on social media Wednesday.

What's more, he may be a victim of a crime under Texas laws intended to protect against the release of intimate materials.

In 2015, Texas legislators passed a "revenge porn law" criminalizing the act of intentionally disclosing pictures or videos "depicting another person with the person's intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct" without their consent.

Anyone found in violation of the law could be charged with a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

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Shannon Edmonds, a staff attorney with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said the bipartisan law was passed "because it was happening so much and it didn't fall under traditional harassment crimes."

Edmonds doesn't know enough about the Barton case to know if the law applies here. But said the law was "designed to address situations exactly like this, where a person from a past relationship who has consensually taken images decides to air those naughty pictures in an effort to harm the person they're no longer in a relationship with."

The definition of harm is very broad, Edmonds added, meaning "anything reasonably regarded as loss, disadvantage, or injury."

The person who appears to have generated the photo has tweeted a stream of unusual and at times incoherent statements.

The person-who often retweets pro-President Donald Trump messages-has claimed "corrupt police" took his or her medicine, that someone attempted to kill him or her with a car, and appears to have a fascination with actor Corey Feldman.

In the initial tweet that sparked the brouhaha, the Twitter user linked the image of Barton with a separate image of a clothed woman, suggesting the two were involved, with a cryptic message: "I don't like being harassed by these 2."

The woman implicated in the photo, who The News is not identifying, has not responded to requests for comment.

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(Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers and Austin correspondent Lauren McGaughy contributed to this report.)

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(c)2017 The Dallas Morning News

Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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