Aaron von Ehlinger, Idaho Rep Accused of Rape, Should Be Suspended From Office: Ethics Panel

A legislative ethics committee in Idaho said Thursday that Republican state Representative Aaron von Ehlinger should be formally censured and suspended from office as an investigation into allegations of rape continues, the Associated Press reported.

Von Ehlinger, 38, was accused of rape by a 19-year-old intern in March. She claimed that von Ehlinger raped her in his apartment after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant.

Von Ehlinger has denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that his sexual contact with the woman was consensual. The Boise Police Department is investigating and von Ehlinger has not been charged.

Von Ehlinger and his attorney, Edward Dindinger, did not respond to requests for comment immediately after the committee announced its findings.

The attorneys who are representing the intern, Erika Birch and Annie Hightower, released a statement thanking the committee for recommending that von Ehlinger be censured and "taking the first steps to hold him accountable for raping a teen intern."

The full House could vote on the matter by Friday, and a majority ruling against von Ehlinger would require him to immediately vacate his office and remain off Statehouse grounds. In that case, a new lawmaker would be appointed to fill his seat.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Aaron von Ehlinger
Idaho state Representative Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston), left, sits next to his attorney Edward Dindinger, center, and Idaho Deputy Attorney General Emma Nowacki, right, while waiting for a legislative ethics committee to begin on April 28, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. Von Ehlinger is facing the ethics hearing after a 19-year-old legislative intern alleged that he raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner. Rebecca Boone/AP Photo

The Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday that von Ehlinger allegedly has made other women uncomfortable in the past, including a lobbyist who allegedly told another Republican state representative, Megan Blanksma, that von Ehlinger bothered her at a reception. The woman told Blanksma, on condition of anonymity, that she "tried several times to move away. [Von Ehlinger] continued to follow," and that she believed he followed her to the bathroom.

While a suspension would not definitively remove von Ehlinger from office, the five-member ethics panel unanimously agreed they would throw its support behind a motion to expel von Ehlinger if any House lawmaker introduces one.

The decision came the day after the panel heard hours of testimony, including from the teen who first brought the allegations. She was shielded from public view by a black screen and used the name Jane Doe during the proceedings, but some far-right blogs and at least one lawmaker, Representative Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird) revealed the teen's identity in a social media post and in a link embedded in a newsletter to her constituents. At least one of the blogs was edited days later to remove the teen's photo and name.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

After the teen testified, some of von Ehlinger's supporters pursued her out of the building, attempting to film her as she rushed to her car.

Representative John McCrostie (D-Garden City) lauded the intern for her bravery in coming forward.

"Sexual assault survivors are seldom subjected to having their testimony publicly broadcast. But she knew that her truth enabled others to not suffer as she has," McCrostie said. "We owe it to Jane Doe and to future Jane Does" to ensure that the work of the House of Representatives is conducted with integrity.

Representative Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) said von Ehlinger was inconsistent in his testimony and wrongly refused to answer pertinent questions, and the evidence showed he maintained a pattern on hitting on subordinates at the Statehouse despite repeated warnings.

She rejected his argument that because there was no written rule against dating staffers, there was nothing wrong with the behavior.

"There is no House rule against poisoning another person, yet his behavior has poisoned all of us," Horman said. "Conduct unbecoming is an undefined term for a reason per our rules."

Representative Brent Crane (R-Nampa) said the public's perception of the entire legislative body will be measured by the incident and that the panel needed to ensure that constituents are served by those with the highest moral standards. He said von Ehlinger engaged in a "predatory pattern" of behavior.

"The Idaho House of Representatives existed long before we arrived, and it will be here long after we leave, but history will judge us by our actions today," Crane said. "I want our actions to provide a clear directive."

Von Ehlinger could be effectively removed from office for the rest of the legislative session. Birch and Hightower urged the legislative body to go further.

"While we appreciate the recommendation to remove von Ehlinger, we believe the House should take steps to make the removal permanent by moving for his permanent expulsion holding him fully accountable," they said.

The attorneys also noted it has been incredibly difficult for their client, especially when she was accosted by the onlookers after testifying. A television news reporter also followed the teen, the attorneys said, filming her distress. The news station later destroyed the footage and did not broadcast it.

"The unrelenting harm that has occurred as a part of this process, and as a result of her being doxxed in blogs and by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, is exactly why two-thirds of Idaho survivors of sexual assault never choose to report the crimes against them," the attorneys said.

"Every time a system fails to protect survivors, it reinforces why survivors of sexual violence choose not to report and to suffer in silence."

Idaho Governor Brad Little announced Thursday that he fully supports a move to expel von Ehlinger.

"I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions," Little said in a statement. "...Now, the public expects the full Idaho House of Representatives to carry out the recommendation of the committee and ensure the integrity of the Idaho Legislature."