Arizona Republican denies threatening to deport gay ex-lover

Paul Babeu, an Arizona county sheriff and Republican congressional candidate, denied allegations from an ex-lover who said Babeu had threatened to deport him if he would not promise to keep their homosexual relationship secret.

Babeu called the charges "blatantly false" but openly discussed his sexuality in a press conference Saturday held after a local paper reported the allegations.

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An outspoken critic of the Obama administration's Fast and Furious program and a surrogate for the Romney campaign, Babeu said he never threatened his former lover with deportation. But he acknowledged that there had been a relationship, and the fallout from it required his lawyer to intervene. 

The Pinal County sheriff said the man with whom he had a relationship maintained the campaign's website and social media presence as a volunteer, but after their relationship deteriorated he began posting insulting messages on the website.

It was at that point Babeu's lawyer contacted the man - who was not named by the sheriff - and demanded he stop posting to the campaign's website. But Babeu insisted he never threatened anyone with deportation - noting the man was not an illegal immigrant - and turned over the cease and desist letter his attorney sent.

That letter makes no mention of deportation, although does insinuate that continued use of the sheriff's website could lead to "devastating consequences … personally and financially."

"This idea of deportation was never and issue, I don't have the power to deport … there was no law enforcement action here," Babeu said.

The sheriff characterized the story as "an effort to harm me" and said he believed the deportation allegations were the "vehicle" that enabled his political or personal enemies to expose that he was homosexual.

"I'm not disowning or lying about anything. This is a moment of truth for me, I want to get the record straight," Babeu said.

He went on to describe the experience of coming out as a gay as "very difficult, and liberating at the same time."

"What I do in my private and personal life is my own business … we're not hiding or ashamed of anything. I intend to continue to earn the trust of the people by talking about the real issues," Babeu said.

Romney's presidential campaign said earlier Saturday that Babeu would step away from the campaign to focus on the allegations.

"Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him. We support his decision," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

Babeu confirmed that at his press conference, and said the Romney camp had not pressured him in any way to leave the campaign.

"I actually called the Romney campaign and said I would step away," Babeu said.

It is unclear what effect Babeu's admission will have on the closely contested Arizona congressional race. An internal campaign poll in January show Babeu with a 8-point lead over incumbent Rep. Paul Gosar in the Republican primary. The newly-drawn 4th Congressional District is  heavily Republican, so the winner of the primary is likely to head to Congress next January.