An Idaho lawmaker facing rape allegations from a 19-year-old intern was previously warned against hitting on women who work at the Statehouse after his colleagues heard complaints from other staffers, according to documents gathered by the Legislature’s Ethics Committee.
The investigation into Lewiston Republican Rep Aaron von Ehlinger’s conduct began in March when the intern told a supervisor that the 38-year-old lawmaker raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner at a restaurant.
She told the committee that von Ehlinger brought her back to his apartment instead of to her car after dinner because he said he had to pick up something first.
When they were inside, she said he physically carried her to the bedroom and at one point he was kneeling on her with his knees on top of her shoulders.
She said she told von Ehlinger she didn’t want to have sexual contact and at one point lied and said she wasn’t on birth control in hopes that he would be dissuaded. She said the lawmaker ignored her, forcing her to have oral sex.
The investigation into von Ehlinger’s (pictured) conduct began in March when the intern told a supervisor that the 38-year-old lawmaker raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner at a restaurant. Ehlinger is a member of the National Rifle Association and Army veteran
The documents also include transcripts of a call between the intern and von Ehlinger, in which she confronted him and said he forced her to perform oral sex.
‘Like I told you I didn’t wanna do that. I said I was was uncomfortable,’ she told von Ehlinger during the call.
Von Ehlinger countered that he thought she was enjoying the physical interaction, but said he now has regrets.
‘I um clearly made you feel uncomfortable,’ he said, according to the transcript. ‘And um, I didn’t know that at the time, but I do now. And that’s why I’m, uh, like seriously remorseful about it.’
The Boise Police Department has a criminal investigation underway, and the Legislature’s Ethics Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Wednesday to determine if the lawmaker ‘engaged in conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House’.
The Associated Press obtained the investigatory documents on Monday via a public records request.
Von Ehlinger has denied the allegations and maintains the sexual encounter was consensual.
He has not responded to requests for comment, but according to the documents he told the ethics committee that he was surprised by the complaint and that he was falsely accused.
‘I take my my service seriously, both to my Country and to my State and the idea that I would be out doing something like this is um, preposterous,’ he told the committee according to a transcript of the interview. ‘And it disgusts me to even be accused of it.’
The ethics committee documents include text messages, letters and transcriptions of interviews the committee did with von Ehlinger, his colleagues, other Statehouse staffers and the young intern who made the rape report.
Several of those interviewed testified that they had grown concerned about von Ehlinger’s behavior after hearing that he had flirted with staffers or otherwise made women who worked at the Statehouse uncomfortable.
One staffer asked a supervisor for help after she said von Ehlinger made her feel uncomfortable and asked her on a date.
That situation was resolved with an email from the staffer who told the lawmaker that she was married and not comfortable being alone with him, according to the documents.
In another instance, a lobbyist reported that von Ehlinger followed her around and made her feel uncomfortable during events outside the Statehouse, and that at one event she was worried he might have even rifled through her purse in an attempt to find her home address.
During his testimony, von Ehlinger told the committee that he had previously asked out another woman who works on the Capitol grounds.
In another instance, a lobbyist reported that von Ehlinger (center waving) followed her around and made her feel uncomfortable during events outside the Statehouse, and that at one event she was worried he might have even rifled through her purse in an attempt to find her address
Since the allegations were made, White Bird Republican Rep Priscilla Giddings (pictured), revealed the teen’s name and other personal details in a newsletter to her constituents. Giddings claimed the allegations were a ‘liberal smear job’
At various times, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and House Majority Caucus Chair Rep Megan Blanksma were alerted to the complaints, according to the documents.
Blanksma was concerned enough that she asked a colleague to warn von Ehlinger that he needed to remain strictly professional and avoid any behavior that could be perceived as flirtatious.
Von Ehlinger did not seem receptive to the warning, Blanksma told the committee.
‘I hate to attribute, you know, any particular attitude to him but, it was, he was defensive when he came upstairs and I don’t know that he appreciated the effort or the spirit in which the suggestion was made,’ Blanksma said. ‘I felt that he was pushing back on me even suggesting that path forward.’
Von Ehlinger told the committee that despite the warning, he still thought it was appropriate to ask staffers out on dates because he believed if the individual had a problem with it, they would let him know, ‘and that the matter would be closed’.
The intern told the ethics committee that the investigation had been overwhelming, but that she would do what she needed to in order to support the process.
‘And that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my job,’ she said. ‘ … I’m doing my best to hold my integrity.’
The teen’s attorney, Annie Hightower with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, decried the move by the House Ethics and Policy Committee.
‘We learned late last night that the committee will compel her testimony via a subpoena,’ Hightower said Tuesday.
‘We believe it should be her choice on whether to relive very traumatic events in a public form. Our client deserved better, and now she deserves accountability and the full respect and support of the public.’
Still, Caitlin Copple Masingill, who was assisting the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence in representing the intern, said the group was hopeful that the intern would be allowed to speak from behind a screen to shield her face from onlookers.
On Tuesday, members of the House Republican Caucus Leadership issued a prepared joint statement reminding the public that the hearing is simply an open committee meeting, not a criminal or civil trial.
Several people took to social media to condemn Giddings for releasing the 19-year-old’s name
‘As we’ve said before, and will continue to say, we take these claims against one of our members very seriously,’ the GOP leadership wrote. ‘We know our members are committed to transparent and thorough process in order to make a fair determination of whether the conduct was unbecoming.’
Hightower said her client wanted to do the right thing by reporting the alleged rape, but some of the response has been traumatic.
One lawmaker, White Bird Republican Rep Priscilla Giddings, revealed the teen’s name and other personal details in a newsletter to her constituents. Giddings claimed the allegations were a ‘liberal smear job’.
Shortly after the ethics committee released the complaint, David Leroy – an attorney who was representing von Ehlinger at the time – publicly released a seven-page letter written by von Ehlinger’s previous attorney refuting the allegations and contending that the lawmaker had passed a lie detector test. That letter included the accuser’s name, as well as some personally identifying details about her life.
Some far-right blogs also revealed the intern’s name, photo and details about her personal life.
Neither Giddings nor Leroy responded to requests for comment.
‘Our teenage client who believes she was doing her civic duty in reporting a crime, has also been publicly named, shamed, bullied and harassed by a small subset of elected officials,’ Hightower said.
‘They’re using a teenager as a political pawn.’
Heather Drevna, vice president of communications for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, said identifying people who report sex assaults without their consent could compound any trauma they’ve experienced.
‘Survivors have already had their agency taken away from them in one of the most horrific ways possible,’ Drevna said. ‘That’s why responsible media long ago adopted the policy about not naming victims without their consent.’
‘If they see someone being supported, that can have an impact on their ability to report,’ Drevna said of the callers. ‘Conversely, seeing a survivor treated so abysmally as having their information released without their consent, that can have a chilling effect on others.’
After Wednesday’s hearing, the committee will then recommend to the full House whether the complaint should be dismissed or if von Ehlinger should face reprimand, censure or expulsion, and the House will vote.