General News

Idaho lawmaker made other women ‘uncomfortable,’ was told to stop by House Republicans

An Idaho lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct was warned in the past about his behavior toward women and told to stop, documents released to the Idaho Statesman on Monday afternoon show.

Documents related to the ethics complaint against Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Lewiston Republican, show that a House leader directed another lawmaker to talk to von Ehlinger about his behavior toward women who worked at the Idaho Capitol.

The Ethics and House Policy Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing on a complaint of “inappropriate sexual conduct” by von Ehlinger after a 19-year-old legislative staffer accused him of forcing her into oral sex, according to documents released by the Idaho House of Representatives. The committee unanimously ruled there was “probable cause” after a monthlong investigation. Von Ehlinger denied the allegation and said the sexual contact was consensual, according to ethics committee documents.

Newly released documents also provide more detail into the accusation. According to a Boise Police Department report, the accuser told “her supervisor that she had been raped” by von Ehlinger. The accuser described to ethics committee members that he had put himself on top of her with his groin in her face despite her having said “no.”

“I feel like you kind of used me,” she told von Ehlinger in a text message, and reiterated to him that she had told him “no.” She told him she hadn’t slept in days.

Boise Police said it’s investigating the allegation.

The definition of rape in Idaho code includes forced oral penetration. The Idaho Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which is representing the accuser, declined to comment Monday night.

Blanksma ‘uncomfortable’ after being confronted by von Ehlinger

House Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, directed Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, to speak to von Ehlinger after a lobbyist told her that von Ehlinger made her uncomfortable at a reception. Holtzclaw also has faced sexual harassment allegations in the past.

The woman told Blanksma that she “tried several times to move away. He continued to follow,” according to a transcript in the ethics committee documents. The woman said she believed von Ehlinger also followed her to the bathroom, Blanksma told the committee. Blanksma said she is keeping the woman anonymous upon her request.

Holtzclaw told the committee that he took von Ehlinger out to lunch and advised him not to flirt with or date anyone in the Capitol. After the lunch, Blanksma told the committee that von Ehlinger confronted her about setting it up.

“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.

He demanded to know more about the accusation, Blanksma said, and made her uncomfortable. Von Ehlinger asked her whether the complaint involved “some sort of touching incident,” and began to talk about a staff member. Blanksma said it caught her off guard.

Blanksma said she tries to keep fellow Republicans “all out of trouble,” she told the committee. She said she told him that she was trying to help him.

“He made a comment about, well, you know, he was single, tall, blond, good-looking guy and, you know, sometimes people take things the wrong way,” Blanksma said.

When asked about the power differential between von Ehlinger and the woman who spoke to her, Blanksma said she is a lobbyist “who relies on representative votes to make a living.”

Von Ehlinger told the committee he had “no idea” he was going against any policy.

“I’ll tell you, if there was a House rule or a law against it, I guarantee all of you that I would have never engaged this person at all,” von Ehlinger told the committee.

In another instance, von Ehlinger asked a House clerk out to dinner, according to documents. She later emailed him to tell him she was married and felt uncomfortable spending time alone.

Carrie Maulin, House chief clerk, told the ethics committee that she was concerned about the “power differential” between von Ehlinger and the staffer, who told Maulin she felt uncomfortable speaking to him in person. The new members had also just had their “respectful workplace” training, Maulin said.

When asked about an “unspoken” understanding that there’s a hierarchy with representatives and staffers, Holtzclaw told the ethics committee that he believed it would be inappropriate to date staff members in the Legislature. Holtzclaw didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

“You should not date anyone in this sphere of who we are, who we work with,” Holtzclaw told the committee, according to the transcript. “Anyone in this building is off-limits.”