Ethics hearing testimony screen

The House Ethics Committee heard testimony Wednesday, April 28, 2021, from a young intern in the ethics complaint against Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger; she spoke from behind the screen at right.

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The young intern whom Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger is accused of raping testified from behind a screen to the House Ethics Committee today, after her attorney, Erika Birch, told the committee, “I intend to take any measures necessary to minimize the re-traumatization of Miss Doe by Rep. von Ehlinger and his counsel.” Birch cited “a pattern … of naming and shaming” of the young woman by supporters of the lawmaker.

Called “Jane Doe” during the hearing today, the young woman testified that she’s 19 and just graduated from high school in 2020. As an intern for the House, she said, she runs errands, takes notes, does research, attends meetings, “intern work, grunt work as well. Get coffee and stuff.”

She said she met von Ehlinger in a Capitol hallway and “he presented me with cookies.” She said he came by her office approximately 10 times, always for non-work, personal conversations, and once invited her to go into his office to see it.

Deputy Attorney General Leslie Hayes questioned Doe about the events of March 9, when she went to dinner at Barbacoa with von Ehlinger, and then went with him to his apartment, where he initiated sexual contact, referring to a police report that’s already an exhibit in evidence for the committee. “Did you tell Rep. von Ehlinger that the sexual contact was unwanted?” Hayes asked. “Yes,” Doe replied, “I said no, and no was enough. … I said multiple, multiple reiterations. I even tried to convince him to not, telling him I wasn’t on birth control and hadn’t shaved myself ... and he just continued.”

Hayes also questioned Doe about her interactions with Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, who sent out a newsletter to her constituents linking to a “Redoubt News” post containing the woman’s name, photograph and various claims that the allegations were part of a “blatant liberal smear job.” “She shared an article revealing information and lies about me,” Doe said. “I told her she put my safety, the safety of my son and I in jeopardy. I told her she’s a horrible person.” Giddings called security, the young woman said, and an officer came. “He just said, ‘Hope you have a better day.’”

Doe struggled to put some of her story into words, saying she was late to the hearing because she was panicking in the bathroom, vomiting, and “calling my mom because I’m terrified.”

Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Edward Dindinger, questioned Doe about why the initial report on the incident from the assistant House sergeant-at-arms gave the date of March 10, rather than March 9. Doe said, “I said the other night.” She said she works at the Statehouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and made the report first thing in the morning on her first day back after the Tuesday night incident. She also said she made a police report the same day.

When Dindinger attempted to cross-examine Doe about statements von Ehlinger made in his response to the ethics complaint, Hayes objected, saying she and other attorneys weren’t allowed to question von Ehlinger about his claims because he asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, so it was “inappropriate to use Jane Doe to get this subject matter into evidence.”

Dindinger said, “I think we need to be able to cross-examine the accuser here.”

Rep. Sage Dixon, House Ethics Committee chairman, said, “She is just a witness. The complainant is House leadership.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “I’m just going to object to the line of questioning. The question before the committee is conduct unbecoming to a legislator. The issue of consent is not before this committee. And we have made this clear with each one of the legal counsels that Rep. von Ehlinger has retained that that’s not the issue, and they keep trying to put this into a criminal proceeding. The accuser acknowledges that these events took place as well as the accused, and all we are here to determine today is whether his conduct was unbecoming to a legislator.”

After her testimony, the audience in the Lincoln Auditorium could hear the young woman cry and yell as she left through a back door.

The next witness was another young woman who reported that she went on two dates with von Ehlinger earlier this year after meeting him at the Capitol in the course of her work. She said they went out to lunch the first time, ending with "a kiss goodbye," and the second time, he invited her up to his apartment after a meal "to see his guns," which she welcomed, saying, "I'm a big 2nd Amendment person." A sexual encounter followed. Asked if it was consensual, the woman said, "Uncomfortably, I guess. I'm not typically the person to just go and meet and get with people like that. I just kinda wanted to leave. ... I said I'm uncomfortable doing this while I'm on my period."

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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