U.S. Rep. Joe Barton on Wednesday apologized for a nude photo of himself he texted to a woman he was dating.
The photograph and an accompanying lewd comment were posted earlier this week to an anonymous Twitter account.
The Texas congressman released a statement to several media outlets saying that when he was separated from his second wife, he “had sexual relationships with other mature adult women.”
“Each was consensual,” Barton’s statement read. “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.”
The image has drawn attention particularly in light of recent revelations of sexual misconduct by politicians and entertainers ranging from U.S. Sen. Al Franken to Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.
Barton announced earlier this month that he’s running for re-election. His spokeswoman told The Dallas Morning News that the longtime congressman does not plan to step down from office.
A national Republican strategist said party leaders expect to hear after the holiday whether Barton will step down, retire at the end of his term or seek re-election.
Barton, 68, has represented the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties, since 1985.
Earlier this week, the image — a photo of a nude man with his anatomy blurred out that appeared to resemble Barton — was posted on Twitter. Political insiders soon began tweeting about Barton’s district and whether he would soon retire.
TMZ reported that the photos were accompanied by text messages, including: “I want u soo bad. Right now,” followed by a sexually explicit comment.
“This is extremely poor judgment, extremely foolish and simply not becoming of a Republican elected official,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Tim O’Hare said. “At a time when Republicans are under attack by the media and by leftist hate groups, this is the last thing we need to be dealing with.
“To say that I am disappointed is a massive understatement.”
Barton stressed that the photos came from a consensual relationship.
It is not clear who shared the photo on social media or why. Some question whether he could be a victim of a crime under state laws.
Chatter on Twitter in recent days has suggested that political observers should keep their eyes out for an upcoming “retirement/resignation watch.”
“Is US Rep. Joe Barton going to join the retirement-palooza?” one person tweeted.
“Is Congressmen Joe Barton the next to be exposed?” another tweet asks.
Late Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that it had reviewed a recording of a 2015 phone call in which Barton told a woman to whom he had sent sexually explicit photos, videos and messages that he would report her to the Capitol Police because she could expose his behavior.
In a statement late Wednesday, Barton said a transcript of the recording provided by The Post may be “evidence” of a “potential crime against me.”
“This woman admitted that we had a consensual relationship,” Barton told The Post. “When I ended that relationship, she threatened to publicly share my private photographs and intimate correspondence in retaliation. As the transcript reflects, I offered to take the matter to the Capitol Hill Police to open an investigation. Today, 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.”
The woman, whom The Post did not identify, said she never had any intention to use the materials to retaliate against Barton, The Post reported.
6th Congressional District
Barton announced earlier that this month that he would seek re-election.
“In Congress, I have made it a priority to promote free-market principles and pass legislation to create jobs so that more and more Americans can prosper,” Barton said at the time. “Much work remains in Washington, and [I] hope to carry on the torch for the 6th District.”
The filing deadline for the March 6 primary elections is Dec. 11.
Republicans privately say that politicians from state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, to Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former chief of staff and district director for Barton, are being considered as potential candidates if Barton does not seek re-election.
Strategists also mention names such as state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.
Already, Democrat Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who unsuccessfully ran against Barton in 2016, has filed to run for the post again.
National Democrats have met with another candidate, public relations specialist Jana Lynne Sanchez, who attended the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s candidate forum in Washington last month. She’s been endorsed by the New Democrat Coalition.
If Barton were to resign from the seat, there could be a special election next year that both parties could target.
Texas uses an open-primary system in special elections, meaning candidates from all parties appear on a single ballot. If no candidate takes more than 50 percent, the top two vote takers, regardless of party, advance to a runoff.
“If it were a regular open seat, I don’t think it would be that competitive, but a special-election scenario could have low turnout, which would help Democrats,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Barton, who long ago picked up the nickname “Smokey Joe” for defending industries against tighter pollution controls, formerly chaired the House Energy and Commerce committee.
He has been married twice — to Terri Barton from 2002 to 2015 and Janet Sue Winslow from 1970 to 1993 — and he currently is engaged.
Barton drew national headlines earlier this year when he was among the Republican congressmen shot at during a GOP baseball team practice, as they readied for the congressional baseball game pitting Republican players against Democrats.
Barton, who managed the team, asked for politicians to “refocus what we do in Washington” when he returned home.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included speculation from political strategists that state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, could be a possible candidate to run for Barton’s seat should it come open. A spokesman for Birdwell says the senator has no plans to run for Congress.