An Idaho lawmaker, who police said is the focus of a criminal investigation into allegations that he raped a 19-year-old lawmaker intern last month, stepped down Thursday, the day an ethics committee recommended that he should be admitted suspend.
A unanimous vote by the House of Representatives Ethics and Policy Committee found that lawmaker, State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, Idaho, engaged in behavior that was not part of a Representative.
As part of a critical recommendation to the entire House, the committee said that Mr. von Ehlinger, who was not charged with a crime, should be expelled from office for the remainder of the legislative term without pay. The panel also said it would support a motion to remove him from the legislature in which he had served less than a year.
The disciplinary action came the day after Mr von Ehlinger refused to answer the committee’s questions on the allegations during a lengthy public hearing invoking the fifth amendment right against self-blame.
Mr. von Ehlinger, 38, denied the allegations in a resignation letter he sent to the Idaho House spokesman Thursday, but said he could no longer effectively represent his constituents.
“I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing I have been accused of in this matter, let alone violating any law, rule, or policy of the Idaho state or this body,” he wrote. He also said that if he were potentially expelled, it would be difficult for him to do his job.
“I hope that this action will not save my good colleagues any further difficulties on this matter,” the letter said.
The intern, who testified before the committee on Wednesday, told the House Assistant Corporal on March 11 that Mr. von Ehlinger sexually assaulted her after dinner at a restaurant in Boise, Idaho, on March 9, after one of her lawyers. Instead of taking her back to her car, the lawyer said Mr. von Ehlinger drove her back to his apartment and raped her.
Mr von Ehlinger had previously informed the legislature in a private interview that, according to the committee, whose members repeatedly warned him on Thursday, his sexual contact with the intern was consensual.
“His behavior has poisoned the reputation of all of us and tarnished and discredited other elected officials who serve,” Republican Wendy Horman, a Republican from Idaho Falls, said during the committee meeting.
Members of the committee said that Mr. von Ehlinger, who is single, has followed a pattern of inappropriate behavior in the workplace and has had relationships with several female employees in the house, some of whom were subordinate.
“The representative’s aggressive tactics towards women are worrying,” said Democrat John McCrostie, a Garden City Democrat, during the meeting.
A spokeswoman for the Boise Police Department said in an email on Thursday that an open investigation into allegations against Mr von Ehlinger had taken place.
Erika Birch, a lawyer for the intern who was identified as Jane Doe in a complaint, said in an email on Thursday that Mr. von Ehlinger had not taken responsibility for his actions.
“It is inexcusable that he waited until his fate was inevitable to resign,” said Ms. Birch. “Although we are happy that he is no longer in the legislature and can no longer hunt young women in our statehouse, his actions are simply unforgivable.”
Ms. Birch said the intern, a student who graduated from high school last year and worked for another Republican in the house, was further injured than a letter identifying her as part of Mr.’s defense published by Ehlinger. Local media reported that a former lawyer for Mr. von Ehlinger had sent the letter.
“Von Ehlinger could and should have taken responsibility for his actions right from the start,” said Ms. Birch. “Instead, he forced our teenage clients to suffer for weeks from the ethics committee’s investigation and ultimately to testify in a public hearing. Worse still, he released his written defense without changing her identity, which has resulted in a campaign of harassment and bullying of her. “
Mr. von Ehlinger and his current lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for additional comments on Thursday.
Appointed last June by Governor Brad Little, a Republican, to fill a position caused by the death of a legislatorMr. von Ehlinger ran unhindered in the November elections. In a profile last spring The Lewiston Tribune reported that Mr. von Ehlinger had worked as a substitute teacher after a military career, in addition to his work in the areas of private security and real estate.
In a statement made Thursday prior to Mr von Ehlinger’s resignation, Mr Little said elected officials need to be kept at a higher level.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and for participating in this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply harmful and shameful actions,” said Little. “The inappropriate and alarming actions of representatives from Ehlinger contradict the values and behavior that state-elected officials must uphold.”