Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger has resigned, House Speaker Scott Bedke told the Idaho Statesman on Thursday.
“He resigned,” Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Statesman by text just hours after a House ethics panel recommended expelling von Ehlinger. Von Ehlinger’s resignation letter was read on the House floor in the afternoon.
“It is my hope that this action spares my good colleagues any more difficulty in this area,” the letter stated. “I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body.”
The Ethics and House Policy Committee unanimously ruled that von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, accused by an intern of sexual assault, engaged in “conduct unbecoming” a House member. The committee announced plans to recommend that the House unseat him immediately.
The committee on Thursday recommended both to suspend von Ehlinger without pay or benefits and to expel him.
A suspension, which is a censure with conditions under House Rule 45, would have required a simple majority vote from the House and force von Ehlinger to vacate his seat for the rest of the session, which runs for two years. An expulsion, under the Idaho Constitution, would require a two-thirds vote.
Either would have accomplished virtually the same outcome. Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, who chairs the ethics committee, said expulsion would not prevent von Ehlinger from running for office again in May 2022. Suspension wouldn’t either.
The committee held a public hearing Wednesday over an ethics complaint brought by House Republican leaders.
The committee heard testimony from several House members, the 19-year-old intern who accused von Ehlinger of sexual assault and women who worked at the Capitol and felt uncomfortable around the Lewiston Republican — including a married clerk who was asked out on a date and a former security guard who had a sexual relationship with him.
House leaders brought the complaint after the intern accused von Ehlinger of forcing oral sex on her in March. The Boise Police Department has an open investigation into the alleged crime, according to BPD. The offense on the police report is listed as rape.
Committee members emphasized that they were not evaluating whether a sexual assault occurred and that they were focused on whether any sexual contact with staffers would be inappropriate for a House member.
Bedke on Thursday applauded the accuser and other women for choosing to testify in front of the ethics panel. He said von Ehlinger fell “far short” of performing his duties “with the highest levels of integrity and dignity.”
The public hearing was transparent and fair, Bedke said in a statement.
“His behavior is something we will not tolerate and casts a shadow over the good work done in the Idaho Statehouse,” he said. “It is our privilege to serve, and practicing strong ethics is central to serving in these hallowed halls.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little cites ‘alarming actions’
Several committee members said Thursday that testimony from staffers and women who worked at the Capitol showed a pattern of behavior by von Ehlinger, a 38-year-old first-term legislator who had held the office for just 10 months.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said von Ehlinger’s refusal to testify about the night of the intern’s allegation showed “tremendous disrespect” to his colleagues. Horman said he misled the ethics committee with multiple inconsistencies from his story — including that he said he didn’t pursue a relationship with the intern after the alleged assault. Texts between the two showed that he asked her out again afterward.
Horman said von Ehlinger’s conduct has “poisoned the reputation of all of us,” and said his colleagues in the Legislature had tried to help him “learn what he should not need a rule to know.”
Gov. Brad Little said in a statement that he fully supported the committee’s recommendation for expulsion. Von Ehlinger was first appointed to his seat in June 2020 by Little to succeed Thyra Stevenson after she died, then got elected to the uncontested seat in November.
Little said the public expected the House to support the recommendation and “ensure the integrity” of the Legislature. He made his statement shortly before von Ehlinger resigned.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” Little said, referring to the sexual assault accuser by the name she was given in the hearing. “Rep. von Ehlinger’s inappropriate and alarming actions stand in opposition to the values and behavior state elected officials must uphold.”
Edward Dindinger, von Ehlinger’s attorney, didn’t immediately respond to phone calls Thursday.
Erika Birch and Annie Hightower, the intern’s attorneys, thanked the committee members for taking the first steps to hold von Ehlinger accountable.
“As we saw during yesterday’s hearing, it’s clear von Ehlinger has participated in a pattern of predatory behavior toward women working in the Statehouse,” they said in a joint statement. “The state of Idaho must take swift action to ensure the safety and well-being of all people who enter the Statehouse.”
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, one of the committee’s two Democrats, said he found the former security guard’s testimony “compelling,” and that she was visibly nervous and uncomfortable. He said he envisioned how he would want his daughter to be treated at the Capitol.
“We have to consider what we would want for our children if they came to the Idaho Legislature to serve as interns,” Gannon said. “I want a place where my children, where my daughter, would have a safe place … and a positive experience and be treated with respect. That didn’t happen in this case.”
The House Democratic Caucus on Thursday applauded von Ehlinger’s decision to resign but said he should’ve resigned sooner.
“We wish he would have done this before forcing Jane Doe and the other women to relive their experiences within the public sphere,” House Democrats said in a joint statement. “His actions were inexcusable, and the behavior he displayed must not be tolerated here — or anywhere. We have to ensure individuals always remain accountable for their actions no matter their station.”
‘Predatory pattern’ toward women
Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, who chairs the ethics committee, said state lawmakers are “held to a higher standard, and that’s a standard that we should embrace.”
A 38-year-old dating a 19-year-old intern would have already been questionable, Dixon said.
“These actions, in my opinion, are denigrating to the institution,” Dixon said. “They’re undermining the public confidence in government and the work of Idaho’s elected officials.”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said in committee that the testimony showed von Ehlinger had “a predatory pattern.”
Crane pointed to the testimony of a clerk who rebuffed von Ehlinger and told him she was married. She then said she received a birthday card from him.
The testimony another woman von Ehlinger dated, a former security guard at the Capitol, gave to ethics committee members was “pretty telling,” Crane told the Statesman in an interview. He added that he didn’t know about her until two days before the public hearing.
“This is a guy who told the committee, ‘This will never happen again,’ ” Crane told the Statesman. “It wasn’t a nonconsent issue, but it was the same sexual act, and she felt pressured into that sexual act. So to me, it’s very troubling, very alarming, that you have one that says, ‘Hey, he raped me,’ and the other one saying, ‘I did not want to do that at all,’ and it was the exact same thing — the exact same sexual act.”
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said von Ehlinger’s “aggressive tactics toward women are unsettling” and created an unsafe work environment for any women in the House.
Von Ehlinger was warned twice during the few months he’s been at the Capitol, McCrostie pointed out.
“Common sense and basic morality dictates that an elected representative should not entertain a relationship with a student intern regardless of who initiated the relationship,” McCrostie said.
Accuser followed after testimony
Harassment of the 19-year-old intern who alleged von Ehlinger sexually assaulted her, referred to as Jane Doe, after her testimony prompted the loss of a TV reporter’s Capitol Correspondents credentials and the call for an investigation.
The accuser testified Wednesday in a concealed location, behind black curtains in a corner of the Lincoln Auditorium at the Idaho Capitol. Members of the press were asked not to try to capture her image.
Dixon, who chairs the committee, said members’ decision to subpoena the intern was more of a legal procedure than an intention to force her to appear. The subpoena was issued but ultimately never delivered, Dixon said.
“We’re already getting charges from some members of our body that this was a setup,” Dixon said. “So in order to try and manage that and be equal to everybody in this process, that’s why we issued those subpoenas to everybody we called.”
Committee members voted 4-1 to subpoena the intern, members said. Gannon voted against it.
Dixon said he was grateful Doe chose to provide testimony.
“I know it was very hard,” Dixon said. “I hated that, but for those of us in our body that don’t have the knowledge that we had had at that point, it was important that she be heard. It wasn’t an easy thing to manage.”
After her testimony, Doe was accosted by two members of an extremist group and CBS2 (KBOI-TV) reporter Emri Moore, “who followed her through the Capitol filming her distress,” Doe’s attorneys said in a statement Thursday. Screams from the 19-year-old were heard from the Lincoln Auditorium.
“Every time a system fails to protect survivors, it reinforces why survivors of sexual violence choose not to report and to suffer in silence,” they said in a joint statement.
Her attorneys, Erika Birch and Annie Hightower of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said they were “horrified.” They pointed to the harassment and release of some personal information as the reason most sexual assault survivors never choose to report the crimes.
The Capitol Correspondents Association Standing Committee on Thursday unanimously voted to revoke Moore’s Capitol Correspondents credentials.
Tom Long, vice president and general manager of Sinclair Broadcast Group and CBS2, on Thursday said CBS2 is aware of the incident and is addressing it with the reporter internally.
“The CBS2 family is committed in the belief that all victims deserve to be listened to and shown respect, and we apologize for this oversight,” Long said in a statement to the Statesman. “Footage of this incident has been deleted and will not be aired or posted online in any manner.”
Gannon said he wanted Little or Bedke to conduct an investigation into who participated in “witness intimidation.”
“Witness intimidation is a very serious crime, and even more serious than refusing to leave a room or disrupting a committee as happened last August,” Gannon said in a letter to the governor and House speaker. “No person should ever feel restricted, restrained or fearful of testifying in any proceeding.”