LEWISTON — More than a third of Idaho House members have accused Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, of engaging in behavior that’s “detrimental to the dignity and integrity of the House.”
Two recent ethics complaints say Giddings fell short of the high standards expected of a representative when she posted information on her Facebook page identifying a 19-year-old House intern who accused former Lewiston Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape.
One complaint was filed by Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, the chairman of the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee.
The second was signed by 24 House members, including 16 Republicans and eight Democrats. The Republican co-signers included House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, Rep. Chaney and Reps. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, and Caroline Troy, R-Genesee.
Following a preliminary investigation, the House Ethics Committee concluded there was sufficient probable cause to move forward with both complaints. It will hold a public hearing in Boise on Aug. 2 to consider the matter further.
The committee could dismiss the complaints, or recommend that Giddings be reprimanded, censured or expelled. The full House would have to vote on any penalty.
This is just the fifth ethics hearing in the House in the past 20 years. During the most recent hearing, in May, the committee recommended that von Ehlinger be censured and suspended for two years for conduct unbecoming a representative. He resigned before the full House could take up the matter.
In a written statement to the Lewiston Tribune, Giddings suggested she’s the victim of a political smear job that’s been orchestrated by Bedke — her rival in next year’s race for lieutenant governor.
“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 said. “Sadly, this kind of dirty politics is par for the course for House Speaker and now lieutenant governor candidate Scott Bedke.”
The statement was similar to comments Giddings posted on Facebook on Wednesday, in which she accused Bedke of “weaponizing” the ethics process. She then asked supporters to donate to her campaign.
Bedke responded with a statement of his own, saying Giddings’ “false claims” don’t reflect reality.
House rules dictate how the five-member Ethics Committee handles any ethics complaints. Bedke also noted that the second ethics complaint was filed May 3, more nearly three weeks before Giddings announced she was running for lieutenant governor. The first complaint was filed April 19, before von Ehlinger had even resigned.
“Her attempt to excuse Rep. von Ehlinger’s conduct through her admitted publication of his alleged victim’s information is worthy of investigation by the Ethics Committee,” Bedke said in his statement. “That’s why I signed on (to the ethics complaint) with 24 other House members. … Rep. Giddings is now attempting to deflect and use the investigation as a fundraising tactic. I believe all elected officials should be held to a higher standard. That was the intent of adding my name to the letter.”
Chaney’s April 19 complaint focused on Giddings’ decision to post a Redoubt News story about the von Ehlinger situation, adding the heading “Follow the Money! Idaho’s very own Kavanaugh.”
The story included the name and a photo of the 19-year-old intern. Chaney said it also disparaged the intern’s motives, impugned the integrity of House leadership and mislead the public about the House ethics process.
“By posting the article in the context she did, Rep. Giddings adopted the contents thereof as her own,” he said.
Moreover, by including the “Follow the Money!” heading, he said, Giddings “added the inference that there was a monetary motive for the proceedings against Rep. von Ehlinger. … These accusations, under the implied motivation of pecuniary gain, are without factual or evidentiary basis and are therefore inappropriate.”
The second complaint said Giddings’ decision to post the Redoubt News story potentially jeopardized the woman’s safety and threatened the integrity of the investigation into her allegations.
“It is inappropriate to share the identity of a person who has reported sexual assault because it endangers that person and prevents other survivors from coming forward,” the complaint says. Posting the story could “amount to retaliation against (the intern) for raising a claim of sexual harassment, which is unlawful under Idaho code.”
The complaint also suggests Giddings misrepresented her actions during the April 29 Ethics Committee hearing on von Ehlinger.
At the hearing, she was asked under oath whether she had posted a picture or the name of the intern on her Facebook page. She said that wasn’t correct. She later acknowledged posting a link to a news article — which included a prominent photo of the intern — but refused to say she posted a photo.
“Rep. Giddings’ conduct appears to be unbecoming of a representative,” the complaint concludes. “To maintain a safe workplace at the Idaho House, we must be able to receive and respond to reports without interference. Additionally, people working at the Statehouse must be able to report abuse without the threat of bullying, threats or invasion of privacy. Rep. Gidding’s behavior invaded (the intern’s) privacy and threatened her safety. It also threatened the integrity of the investigation. Further, the appearance of dishonesty while under oath was an affront to the House.”
The Aug. 2 Ethics Committee hearing will take place at the Idaho Statehouse. If necessary, it will continue on Aug. 3. It’s unclear at this point whether the meeting will be streamed online.