Idaho state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, has been accused of having “unconsented sexual contact” with an adult intern on the legislative staff in Boise in March.
Following a preliminary investigation, the House Ethics Committee found there was sufficient probable cause to move forward with the complaint. It’s expected to hold a public hearing regarding the allegations sometime during the week of April 26.
Von Ehlinger voluntarily informed the Lewiston Tribune about the pending complaint early Friday morning, via email. In a brief statement, he denied the accusation and said he is fully cooperating with the Ethics Committee investigation.
“This episode is an embarrassment to me, but I assure my constituents in Nez Perce and Lewis counties that I have not broken any laws or legislative rules, nor have I violated the concepts of appropriate social conduct,” he said.
Von Ehlinger is serving his first term representing the 6th Legislative District. Reached by phone Friday morning, he said the only comment he can make at this time is that “these are false allegations, and we are fighting them vigorously.”
A copy of the ethics complaint was released by the Ethics Committee on Friday afternoon. It was signed by all four members of the House Republican leadership team.
The name of the woman is redacted, but the complaint is based on a conversation she had with Kim Blackburn, the assistant House sergeant-at-arms.
In a statement to Boise Police detectives, Blackburn said the woman approached her the morning of March 11, saying “she’d gone to dinner last night with a person and something had happened and she wasn’t sure what to do.”
The woman eventually indicated the person was von Ehlinger, with whom she had become friends. She said he’d once given her money to buy him lunch and let her keep the change, and later brought her lunch and paid to fill up her car with gas.
After dinner, the woman said they went back to von Ehlinger’s apartment, where he “started taking her clothes off.” They then allegedly engaged in oral sex she said was unwanted. She indicated she “froze” when sexual contact was initiated, and said she told him “no” at some point.
Blackburn subsequently reported the allegations to the Attorney General’s Office, which then referred the matter to the Boise Police Department and notified the House leadership team.
The complaint indicates that, at the request of someone whose name is redacted, the law enforcement investigation “would not be moving forward.”
Given their understanding of the situation, the four Republican leaders said they felt compelled to bring the complaint to the Ethics Committee for investigation. The leadership team issued a short statement Friday afternoon saying it takes allegations of this nature seriously and respects the committee process.
“We believe in this transparent and fair course of action, and we are looking forward to seeing it through to the end,” they said.
Under House rules, ethics complaints must be submitted in writing and must be signed by a member of the House.
In his response to the complaint, von Ehlinger said the complainant “has not been truthful regarding (the) allegations she made.”
He said they engaged in consensual sex, that the woman was a “willing participant” who never told him “no.” He also provided a copy of a polygraph examination he took, which supported his statements.
The exam was conducted by Chip Morgan, a certified polygraph examiner and instructor.
In a March 29 report, Morgan said von Ehlinger was asked if he ever gave the woman any money and if, during their sexual encounter, she had ever indicated “verbally or non-verbally” that she didn’t want to participate.
His response to both questions was “no.”
“I believe that the examinee, Aaron von Ehlinger, is being truthful to the tested issues,” Morgan wrote. “(He) showed no significant reactions to the relevant questions. The absence of significant reaction is consistent with truthfulness and this examinee is regarded as being truthful to the tested issues.”
It’s been years since the Committee on Ethics and House Policy has held a public hearing on an ethics complaint.
Per House rules, such complaints are forwarded to the chairman of the five-member committee, which includes three members from the majority party and two from the minority.
Complaints remain confidential unless, following a preliminary investigation, the committee finds probable cause. In this case, the committee unanimously agreed that there was sufficient reason to move forward.
The next step is a public hearing, during which the accuser or her agent presents the complaint and any supporting evidence. Von Ehlinger can then present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and raise objections.
If, at the conclusion of the hearing, the committee finds “by clear and convincing evidence” that a violation occurred, it will forward a recommendation to the full House. The recommendation could range from dismissal of the charges to a reprimand, censure or expulsion.
Any recommendation requires a four-fifths vote by the committee. Any recommendation for expulsion also requires a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the member committed a felony or used their public office for financial gain.
A two-thirds vote by the full House would be needed to expel a member. A simple majority vote is needed to reprimand or censure them.
House rules also make it clear that the full House can only vote on recommendations from the Ethics Committee during regular session. Consequently, if the 2021 legislative session were to adjourn before the committee reaches a decision, any vote on the matter would likely be postponed until lawmakers reconvene next year.
Spence may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208)-791-9168.
To read the Idaho House preliminary investigation documents into the allegations against Aaron von Ehlinger, go to lmtribune.com