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Monday July 26th, 2021 1:19PM

Idaho lawmaker who shared rape accuser's name faces hearing

By The Associated Press
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho lawmaker who publicized the name of a 19-year-old intern who accused another state lawmaker of rape will face a legislative ethics hearing over her actions next month.

The House Ethics and Policy Committee found probable cause that Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from the tiny town of White Bird, engaged in “conduct unbecoming a representative, which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body,” the committee announced Tuesday.

The finding came after two formal complaints — including one signed by a bipartisan group of roughly two dozen lawmakers — were filed, alleging Giddings threatened the intern's privacy and safety by sharing her identity and that the lawmaker tried to mislead the ethics committee when asked about it under oath.

Giddings faced criticism and complaints this year after sharing links to a far-right blog post that included the intern's name, photo and details about her life with thousands of people in a newsletter and on social media.

Giddings did not immediately respond to a phone message and email from The Associated Press requesting comment. On Facebook, she claimed a political rival was pushing for the ethics hearing as a form of “dirty politics.”

“As a decorated Air Force officer and a recognized women’s advocate, I take a backseat to no one in standing up for the rights of victims,” Giddings wrote.

The intern had reported to police and legislative leaders that then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, had raped her after they went out to dinner.

Von Ehlinger has denied any wrongdoing and said the sexual contact was consensual. An ethics committee found he engaged in “conduct unbecoming” a lawmaker, and he resigned before the full House could vote on whether to remove him from office.

The Ada County prosecutor's office told the AP last week that police were still investigating the allegation against von Ehlinger.

The AP generally doesn't name people who report sexual assaults unless they agree to be publicly identified.

The young woman was repeatedly harassed after she reported the allegation. Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican from Blanchard, sought a copy of the police report and made inquiries into how people who make rape allegations could themselves be charged with a crime. Giddings made disparaging remarks about the woman in a newsletter to constituents that included the links to the blog post with identifying details. Giddings also shared the post on her social media page that has thousands of followers.

Members of a far-right anti-government group also tried to follow and harass the woman after she was called to testify in von Ehlinger's ethics hearing. She later told the AP that the harassment was overwhelming during an already difficult time.

Under legislative rules, ethics committee investigations can only be triggered if a lawmaker files a formal complaint against a colleague. Those complaints aren't made public unless the committee finds there is probable cause to hold a hearing, so it's unclear if complaints have been made about other lawmakers.

After the harassment was revealed, hundreds of people reached out to legislative leaders to complain about Giddings' actions. Residents also called for the U.S. Air Force Academy to investigate whether Giddings, who is a major in the Air Force Reserves, violated military rules.

The Air Force said in June that “an assessment is ongoing,” but because it's subject to federal privacy rules, the results are not known.

The intern's attorney, Annie Pelletier Hightower with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, said Giddings publicizing personal details about the woman is “pretty much exactly what every person who experiences sexual violence fears will happen to their information.”

Hightower said she was happy to learn an ethics hearing would be held.

“It's an important step for the state, if we are really invested in creating space where people can report sexual violence,” Hightower said. “I think we should expect better of our lawmakers, and I am happy that there is some process for accountability that is ongoing.”

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Giddings claimed House Speaker Scott Bedke had “weaponized” the ethics hearing against her and asked people to donate to her defense. Both Giddings and Bedke, who couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, are running for lieutenant governor.

After reviewing the formal complaints, the House Ethics Committee found probable cause that “misconduct may have occurred regarding a portion of each complaint.” The public ethics hearing is set for Aug. 2 at the Idaho Statehouse.

In one complaint filed April 19, Rep. Greg Chaney, a Republican from Caldwell, said Giddings mischaracterized the ethics investigation against von Ehlinger on social media, created a hostile work and retaliatory environment for the intern and wrongly accused other lawmakers of illegal conduct by claiming the investigation into von Ehlinger was tainted or done for financial gain.

In the second complaint filed May 3, Bedke and roughly two dozen other Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Giddings should be investigated for two things: first, for harassing and potentially endangering the intern by releasing her identity on social media and making defamatory remarks about her, and second, by trying to mislead ethics committee members who asked Giddings about the social media posts under oath.

Those questions came during von Ehlinger's ethics hearing, when Giddings was called as a witness. The members asked Giddings to confirm that she had posted a picture of the intern, and she said, “That is not correct,” according to the complaint.

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