Ethics Committee screenshot

The House Ethics Committee meets in the Capitol's Lincoln Auditorium on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

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All legislative proceedings are on hold today as the House holds an Ethics Committee hearing on the ethics complaint against Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, involving allegations of rape of an intern; Ehlinger faces a complaint of “conduct unbecoming” an elected member of the House. The hearing is taking place in the Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium, and is being live-streamed. Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, House Ethics Committee chairman, said, “It was never anticipated that something of this magnitude may come before us, but we have been diligent in our examination. … This is a matter internal to the House of Representatives. It has now become public by our House rules.”

He said the committee’s discussions at the conclusion of the hearing will be public, as will its recommendations. “That may take place tomorrow morning, depending on our time today,” Dixon said.

The hearing opened with statements from counsel, including Edward Dindinger, attorney for von Ehlinger, and presentation of the complaint, including comments from House Speaker Scott Bedke. “We brought this complaint to protect the integrity of the Idaho House of Representatives, not only of those who serve here today, but also of every person who has ever been elected or will be elected to the Idaho House of Representatives,” Bedke told the committee. He said when he received the complaint, he immediately took it to the Attorney General’s office.

Deputy Attorney General Leslie Hayes asked Bedke, “And since this complaint … were you aware of other complaints?”

Bedke said, “We compared notes and we heard of other allegations of conduct, advances toward staff members and other members of the public that worked in the building.”

Von Ehlinger, a 38-year-old freshman representative, has maintained that the 19-year-old intern is being untruthful and that the sexual contact was consensual. It occurred at his apartment after he took her out on a dinner date; she alleges that he forced her to perform oral sex.

Within the first hour of this morning’s hearing, von Ehlinger was at the podium. He was questioned about earlier warnings he received about his behavior toward women in the Capitol, and about “respectful workplace” training he underwent as a lawmaker. Von Ehlinger said the lesson he took from the warning he received was, “As a single Republican man, you’re definitely a target.”

He said he had had “around five or six” conversations with the young intern before asking her out on a date, and had given her his business card with his cell phone number written on the back.

When von Ehlinger was asked about what occurred on the evening in question, on March 9, Dindinger objected, saying he’s advising his client not to answer any questions on that due to his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. Bill Myers, attorney for the committee, objected to that assertion, saying under the rules of the House, “If he refuses to testify, the committee can consider that and consider whether to issue a contempt citation against your client.”

Dindinger said, “I’m instructing him not to answer this question based on 5th Amendment rights.”

Von Ehlinger also was asked about who else he has dated since this year’s special legislative session in August. He said he also dated a Capitol security guard he met at the Capitol, taking her on two dates and including sexual contact.

Documents submitted to the committee in relation to the complaint also show that von Ehlinger asked out a married staffer, making her uncomfortable and causing her to report it to her supervisor; and that a lobbyist complained of his conduct toward her at two separate receptions outside the Statehouse.

At today's hearing, the intern is being referred to as "Jane Doe." She is a witness in these proceedings, but the complainant is the House leadership, which filed the ethics complaint. I’ll post periodic updates about the hearing as the day goes on.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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