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Giddings helped craft rape allegation response, record shows

by RYAN SUPPE/Idaho Statesman
| January 27, 2022 1:00 AM

Idaho state Rep. Priscilla Giddings was involved in crafting a news release attributed to Aaron von Ehlinger as the former lawmaker faced an accusation that he raped a legislative intern, according to a digital record reviewed by the Idaho Statesman.

On April 16, von Ehlinger sent a news release to The Lewiston Tribune shortly before a House ethics panel publicly released documents on the sexual assault allegation. In the release, von Ehlinger said he was “falsely accused.”

The statement was drafted in a Microsoft Word document and authored by “Representative Priscilla Giddings,” according to the digital file’s “metadata” — identifying data within the existing Word document, which can still be found online. File properties state that the document was “authored by” and “last modified by” Giddings, or someone using her computer or web account, on April 16.

The legislative intern is now suing the Idaho Legislature for “retaliation at the hands of” von Ehlinger, Giddings and others — which amounts to a violation of Idaho’s whistleblower protection law, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit points to the press release as evidence that Giddings and von Ehlinger conspired to release harmful information about the former intern, identified only as “Jane Doe,” who was 19 years old at the time.

Before von Ehlinger’s ethics hearing, Giddings, a White Bird Republican running for lieutenant governor, had defended him and shared a conservative outlet’s article that identified the accuser. “Upon information and belief, Rep. Giddings was involved in the drafting of that statement,” the lawsuit said of the news release.

Giddings is also accused in a separate lawsuit of illegally withholding public records that would reveal her conversations with von Ehlinger about the rape allegation.

Giddings did not respond to a request for comment from the Idaho Statesman.

Giddings also urged at least one reporter — William Spence of the Lewiston Tribune — to publicize von Ehlinger’s response to Doe’s complaint against him, according to the lawsuit and Spence.

The April 2 response, addressed to the legislative ethics committee that sought to maintain Doe’s anonymity and shield her from harassment, also included personal details and “defamatory statements” about the former intern, according to the lawsuit.

After the House ethics panel recommended his expulsion, von Ehlinger resigned from his seat. He now faces two felony charges stemming from the sexual assault allegation and is scheduled to stand trial in April.

On Jan. 7, Doe’s attorney, Erika Birch, sued Giddings after multiple public records requests for her communications with von Ehlinger were denied or ignored. Giddings denied the records exist in a campaign newsletter Thursday. Giddings doubled down this week, when she bemoaned “empty, politically motivated claims” and “outrageous” news coverage in another campaign newsletter.

Wendy Olson, an attorney representing Birch in the records lawsuit, told the Statesman by phone Tuesday that Birch’s goal is to get the records — or confirm the records don’t exist, if that’s the case — “as quickly as possible.” But the lawsuit has been put on hold temporarily.

The Idaho Constitution grants legislators privilege from civil litigation during the legislative session. Court documents show the Idaho attorney general’s office is representing Giddings, and a spokesperson for the office declined to comment.

Last week, Olson and Deputy Attorney General W. Scott Zanzig agreed to request a suspension of hearings until after the session, which was granted by the judge.

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