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Politics & Government

House Ethics Committee Navigates "Unwritten Rules" In Complaint Over Rape Allegations

Aaron von Ehlinger ethics trial
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio
Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) during the first day of an ethics hearing into allegations he raped a volunteer staff member.

The Idaho House ethics committee heard from more than a dozen witnesses Wednesday as it considers expelling a freshman Republican lawmaker over allegations he raped a staff volunteer.

Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) has not been charged with a crime and the committee is solely considering whether his behavior constitutes “conduct unbecoming” of a legislator.

The committee then must issue a recommendation to the full House, which would vote on any potential expulsion or sanction.

Those witnesses who appeared at the Idaho Capitol include von Ehlinger himself and the 19-year-old victim, who testified behind a black cloth.

Boise State Public Radio doesn’t identify victims who said they've been sexually assaulted.

She said she first met von Ehlinger at the Capitol where she researched legislation for another representative. After he gave her his phone number, he would come by her office – always to have personal conversations, she said.

During her testimony, she repeated her allegations that she was forced into oral sex by von Ehlinger after they had dinner at a Boise restaurant in March.

When she described the alleged rape, von Ehlinger shook his head. He maintains the encounter was consensual.

“I said no,” she said, when asked if she told him to stop. She said she also told him things like she wasn’t on birth control or that it had been a while since she last shaved.

“Things to make me seem unappeasable [sic], you know,” she said. “And he just continued.”

When asked if she had anything else to tell the committee, she told them, “I was late because I was panicking on the floor, vomiting on myself in the bathroom, calling my mom because I’m terrified.”

Day 1 Aaron von Ehlinger ethics trial committee members
James Dawson
Members of the House ethics committee confer with their attorney, William Myers III, on the first day of a hearing into allegations that Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) raped a volunteer staffer.

She also testified about confronting Rep. Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird) earlier this month. Giddings posted an article on her Facebook page from the far-right blog Redoubt News, which identified her by name and included her picture.

Giddings’ post reads, “Follow the money! Idaho’s very own Kavanaugh,” referring to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his confirmation hearing in which he faced accusations of sexual assault.

The victim admitted to approaching Giddings earlier this month outside the capitol building, as well as leaving her a voicemail telling her “you’ll pay for your sins.”

“She claims to be a Christian woman, she should know what that means. Like you and me, we’ll all pay for ours,” she said.

Giddings later testified she saw the confrontation as “somewhat harassing and intimidating” and thinks she’ll eventually be sued by the victim.

Edward Dindinger, von Ehlinger’s attorney, asked the victim about statements made to the police when she reported the allegations. She told an investigator she was urged by her friends to go to dinner with him “for the free food.” She also told the investigator she went because “he’s got money.”

“I don’t make money like he does, so of course he has more money than me,” she said, when asked what she meant by that statement.

Dindinger asked if she had retained a lawyer for a possible civil lawsuit against von Ehlinger, but committee chairman, Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), ruled it out of order.

Screams could be heard after the victim left the hearing room. She was met by people filming her in the capitol hallway, according to an advocate working on her case.

As Boise State Public Radio previously reported, two women who work at the Idaho Capitol said von Ehlinger made them “uncomfortable,” according to transcripts.

In addition to them, a former security guard at the capitol testified Wednesday that the two had sex after a couple of dates. When asked if it was consensual, she said, “Uncomfortably, I guess.”

Von Ehlinger’s defense strongly pushed back that the legislature has no written policy or rule preventing a lawmaker from dating staff members or those who work at the Idaho Capitol.

While the Legislative Council, made up of leaders from both the House and Senate, as well as the Senate itself, had adopted a respectful workplace policy, it was never adopted in the House.

Members of House leadership who testified said a sitting lawmaker dating a staffer violates unwritten rules that are expected of every state representative – something Dindinger said shouldn’t be enforceable since it was never agreed upon.

“It would be in the areas of decorum and in the areas that legislators are held to a higher standard and should be,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley).

Aaron von Ehlinger ethics trial Scott Bedke
James Dawson
Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) looks on as House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) testifies on the first day of an ethics investigation into allegations von Ehlinger raped a volunteer staff member.

When asked if he was aware of common workplace policies forbidding dating among staff, von Ehlinger, a U.S. Army veteran, said he was only familiar with the military’s policy.

“Relationships that begin in the workplace are not an uncommon thing in American culture, I would say,” he said.

Dindinger refused to let his client speak directly about the night of the alleged rape aside from acknowledging transcripts of interviews he previously had given.

Dindinger said it would violate his client’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, as there’s currently an ongoing investigation into the allegations by the Boise Police Department.

Several times during the hours-long hearing, state lawmakers aligned with von Ehlinger seated in the audience laughed at testimony and voiced their displeasure with rulings made by Dixon that went against his defense.

In addition to Giddings, Reps. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens), Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) and Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) said von Ehlinger had been nothing but a gentleman in their interactions.

Boyle also made a reference to past “consenting” relationships involving lawmakers in her testimony, possibly referring to an affair that came to light in 2016 involving former Rep. Christy Perry and current Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon). Despite adultery remaining a crime in Idaho, neither faced a public ethics investigation.

The committee will resume deliberations Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE (4673) or online.rainn.org

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

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