Lawmaker who ID’d rape accuser may lose committee assignment

U.S. & World

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, arrives with applause from her supporters in a packed committee hearing room Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. Rep. Giddings was called before the Ethics and House Policy Committee following complaints of alleged “conduct unbecoming” of a member of the House. The complaints revolve around releasing the name and photograph of a legislative staffer who accused another member of the Idaho House of Representatives of sexual assault last spring. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Idaho legislative ethics committee decided Tuesday that a lawmaker who publicized the name of a Statehouse intern who reported that she was raped by another lawmaker should be stripped of one of her committee assignments for acting in an a manner “unbecoming” to the state’s House of Representatives.

The bipartisan committee voted unanimously to censure Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings — saying she violated basic standards of conduct by targeting the young intern.

They also said she was evasive and disrespectful to her House colleagues during her ethics committee testimony and accused her of lying to the public in an attempt to paint herself as a victim of the ethics investigation.

But panel members stopped short of recommending more severe penalties, including expelling Giddings from the Statehouse or stripping her of her roles on other legislative committees.

Idaho’s full House still must vote on the recommendation and Giddings, in a statement, claimed the committee was corrupt and called its decision “a mockery of Idaho’s ethical standards.”

The intern’s attorney, Annie Hightower with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, criticized the disciplinary recommendation as “incredibly disappointing.”

She said she and her client had hoped Giddings would face a stiffer rebuke for what Hightower called the lawmaker’s “abhorrent behavior.”

Giddings was targeted with two ethics complaints this year after sharing links to a far-right blog that included the name, photo and personal details about the 19-year-old intern who reported being raped by the lawmaker, Republican Aaron von Ehlinger. Giddings posted the link on social media and in a newsletter to constituents.

Von Ehlinger resigned earlier this year after the ethics committee recommended his removal from the Statehouse. He has denied wrongdoing and police are investigating the rape allegation.

The intern said making her personal information public led to overwhelming harassment while she was already struggling. The Associated Press does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission.

The timing of when Idaho’s full House will vote on the panel’s recommendation is uncertain, but it must happen before the Legislature’s next regular session begins in January.

Giddings during the hearing’s testimony phase on Monday was greeted with shouts of support and applause from militia members, participants in anti-government activist Ammon Bundy’s far-right “People’s Rights” group and anti-vaccination protest organizers.

Giddings testified that she felt an obligation to share the article from the blog when the ethics committee was investigating von Ehlinger because she said the committee did not disseminate a written response he had made about the rape allegation.

In her newsletter, Giddings called the rape allegations “nothing more than a Liberal smear job.”

Giddings also testifed she did nothing wrong and claimed the intern wasn’t a crime victim. She repeatedly refused to answer questions that she said she considered “irrelevant.”

Five lawmakers who signed one of the complaints testified Monday that they were concerned that Giddings apparently told half-truths while under oath in von Ehlinger’s ethics hearing about her social media post and that exposing the identity of the intern for reporting a crime — often referred to as “doxing” — amounted to victimizing her a second time.

Republican Rep. Julie Yamamoto said that if Giddings had admitted her errors and apologized, Yamamoto would have removed her name from the complaint.

“We have a loving God who is willing to forgive,” Yamamoto said. “But we have to own it.”

Democratic Rep. John Gannon compared the intern to a “whistleblower” who deserved protection from exposure, adding that Giddings may have put the state at risk of legal liability.

Republican Rep. Wendy Horman said Giddings repeatedly used the ethics complaints to fundraise — ostensibly for her own defense.

But Giddings apparently didn’t use the money to hire an attorney or to serve potential defense witnesses with subpoenas. Horman also took issue with Giddings’ claim that she takes “a backseat to no one in protecting victims’ rights.”

Rep. Brent Crane, a Republican, accused Giddings of repeatedly making “patently false” statements in media interviews and to the committee, including her claim that she was being targeted because she was running for lieutenant governor and that the committee worked with one of her political opponents. Giddings didn’t declare her intent to run until after both complaints were filed.

“You can go ahead and report that narrative, but it is a baldfaced lie,” Crane said.

Giddings in her statement suggested that Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, also a Republican, “trumped up these charges” against her because he is also running for lieutenant governor.

Bedke was one of the two dozen lawmakers who backed the ethics complaint. Other lawmakers testified that he was one of the last lawmakers they asked to sign the already written complaint.

Bedke has denied political motivations, saying after the complaint was made public in mid-July: “I believe all elected officials should be held to a higher ethical standard.”

If a House majority votes in favor of the ethics committee recommendation, Giddings will lose her seat on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

But she would keep her seats on the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Agricultural Affairs Committee.

Victims’ rights experts have said that publicly identifying people who report sex crimes against their will can make others more reluctant to come forward. The intern’s attorney, Hightower, echoed those concerns after the committee reached its decision.

“The recommendation does not demonstrate the level of accountability we expected for absolutely abhorrent behavior of pushing out private information about someone who reported a rape,” Hightower said. “It certainly won’t undo the chilling effects on future reporting of sexual assault that was created by the postings at the center of the complaints.”

After the hearing, some Giddings’ supporters expressed dismay on social media about the recommendation to strip her from the committee assignment.

On Facebook, Republican Rep. Heather Scott called her close ally Giddings the “Latest victim of the Ethics Kangaroo Court.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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