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Politics & Government

House GOP Leaders: Lawmaker Facing Rape Allegation Made Other Women Feel "Uncomfortable"

Idaho Rep. Aaron Von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) on Idaho Capitol steps on Jan. 6 speaking during a local demonstration showing solidarity with “stop-the-steal” protestors in DC, which later turned violent.
Gustavo Sagrero
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Boise State Public Radio
Rep. Aaron Von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) on Idaho Capitol steps on Jan. 6 speaking during a local demonstration showing solidarity with “stop-the-steal” protestors in DC, which later turned violent. He's now under investigation for alleged rape.

Transcripts of interviews with House Republican leaders show two other women who work at the Idaho Capitol said a representative, who’s facing an ethics investigation for alleged rape, made them feel uncomfortable.

Boise State Public Radio obtained the documents filed with the House Ethics and House Policy Committee through a public records request.

They reveal that an unnamed lobbyist went to House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett) earlier this year to describe two encounters she had with Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) over the past several months.

One night during last August’s special session, the lobbyist told Blanksma she felt like von Ehlinger was pursuing her.

“She felt as if he followed her toward the bathroom and felt very uncomfortable with as close as she was, he was trying to get to her,” Blanksma told the committee on April 14.

The lobbyist didn’t report the incident at the time, “hoping it was misunderstood,” Blanksma said.

But at some point this session, the lobbyist said she was at a reception where von Ehlinger was present.

“She tried several times to move away” from him during the reception, Blanksma said, but “he continued to follow” despite an unnamed senator trying to “run interference.”

At the end of the night, Blanksma said the lobbyist became concerned because her purse had been dumped over. Though she wasn’t sure if it had been rifled through, “she was concerned that maybe [von Ehlinger] found out where her home address was.”

The lobbyist didn’t want to make a formal complaint and asked that the incidents remain private.

After being told both these stories simultaneously, Blanksma arranged to have Rep. James Holtzclaw (R-Meridian) speak to von Ehlinger about his alleged behavior. Holtzclaw was the subject of a legislative complaint in 2017 over alleged “flirty comments” he called “a communication mistake of epic proportions.”

Holtzclaw told the committee he approached von Ehlinger casually. “Hey you know what, you’re young, you’re good-looking, and you know just kind of be careful because…you don’t wanna…be overly nice with anyone.”

Holtzclaw said the first conversation happened during the special session last August, though Blanksma said she recalled first asking him to speak to von Ehlinger this year.

During a second conversation at lunch, Holtzclaw said he was more candid.

“I said, ‘Look, you can’t talk to anyone in a flirty manner. You cannot date anyone, ask out anyone, be with anyone in this, this is off limits to you.’”

Holtzclaw’s fiancé, who was also at the lunch, told von Ehlinger about how certain things could be misconstrued as flirting.

After that second conversation, Blanksma said von Ehlinger went to her office and asked if she had set it up.

“I’m trying to help you out here before you get to a point where you end up in a similar situation,” Blanskma told him.

“He made a comment about well you know he was single, tall, blond, good looking guy and you know, sometimes people take things the wrong way,” Blanksma said.

She said he then asked for details about who came to her, what the allegations were and if it involved touching, which she didn’t disclose to him.

“I felt uncomfortable” during that conversation, Blanksma said, also noting she “didn’t feel overly encouraged” that this would affect potential future behavior.

In a separate incident in January, a married House staffer said von Ehlinger asked if she wanted to go on a run with him and get a meal together.

The staffer, who doesn’t wear a wedding ring, said she immediately reported the incident to the House’s chief clerk, Carrie Maulin. The staffer decided to write him an email, saying she was married and felt uncomfortable.

Von Ehlinger replied that he wasn’t aware she was married and that he appreciated the clarification.

Maulin told the committee the timing was ironic, because “the new members had really just had their Respectful Workplace Training…just before that.”

She later told House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) about it. After asking if it had been “handled,” Bedke said “Let’s watch if it…reoccurs or if there’s anything [that] happens after this.”

He said he wasn’t made aware of the alleged incidents with the lobbyist until after the rape complaint was made on March 11. As previously reported by Boise State Public Radio, an adult volunteer staffer alleges von Ehlinger forced her into oral sex after they went to dinner last month – something he said was consensual.

When interviewed by the ethics committee regarding other incidents with House staffers, von Ehlinger said he was made aware of these informal complaints from Holtzclaw, though he didn’t know the details.

“I just made a mental note that some things could be considered possibly flirtatious and I needed to be extra vigilant with anything like that while in the building,” von Ehlinger said.

When asked if he thought it was appropriate to ask a staffer out on a date despite the warning from Holtzclaw, he said yes.

“…because I thought that if, if anyone had an issue with it that they would let me know, and um, and that the matter would be closed.”

An attorney with the attorney general’s office then asked him if he remembered specific lines that cannot be crossed as a lawmaker from the state’s respectful workplace training, which he said he couldn’t.

Von Ehlinger also said he couldn’t recall lessons from that training about power differentials between lawmakers and staff.

Boise Police have reopened a criminal investigation into von Ehlinger, which had been initially stopped at the request of the victim, according to a police report. He has not been charged with a crime.

The House ethics committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday morning on the rape allegations.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio