BOISE – An Idaho lawmaker accused of violating ethics rules by publicizing the name of an alleged rape victim in disparaging social media posts – and then allegedly misleading lawmakers about her actions – said in an ethics hearing Monday that she did nothing wrong and claimed the allegations against her were politically motivated.
Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings became the subject of two ethics complaints by about two dozen lawmakers after she publicized the rape accuser’s name, photo and personal details about her life in April by sharing links to a far-right news article on social media and in a newsletter to constituents.
The Legislature’s ethics committee scheduled the public hearing after finding probable cause that Giddings engaged in “conduct unbecoming a representative, which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body.”
The lawmaker accused of raping the intern, Republican Aaron von Ehlinger, resigned earlier this year after the ethics committee recommended he be removed from the Statehouse. Von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing. The rape allegation is under investigation by police.
When Giddings entered the ethics hearing on Monday, she was met with applause, shouts of support and a standing ovation by some supporters in the audience – which included some militia members and others with far-right political activist groups. Some wore shirts with messages of support, including “victims for Priscilla,” and “Stand with Priscilla, fighting for our freedom.”
In her opening statement, Giddings said the ethics investigation was little more than an unfair attack by political opponents and said she was exercising her constitutionally protected right to free speech by sharing the link that revealed the intern’s identity.
Giddings also said she believed the outcome of the hearing had been pre-determined and left the hearing room after making her statement while the panel continued its work, saying she would return only if required by the ethics panel.
“I will not subject myself to being lambasted,” by politically motivated opponents, Giddings said.
Panel members then started to question witnesses but Giddings did not appear each time that the panel gave her the opportunity to cross-examine them.
Rep. Brooke Green, a Democrat and one of the bipartisan group of lawmakers that signed onto an ethics compliant, said that the other two dozen lawmakers who also signed the complaint were approached individually and not told who else was signing to ensure that political motivations didn’t play a part.
Green said the complaint was made because the Legislature has an obligation to ensure that sexual assault victims are safe and not revictimized by having their privacy violated.
After the intern’s name was publicized, she said the harassment was overwhelming, making an already traumatic experience much worse.
Rep. Greg Chaney, a Republican who brought one of the complaints against Giddings, said not all speech is protected under the First Amendment, including speech that wrongly defames someone. Chaney also said that Giddings’ actions amounted to retaliation against an employee or coworker who reports harassment or sex assault and therefore did not qualify as constitutionally protected speech.
Giddings didn’t return to the hearing room to cross-examine Chaney. But in her May 18 written response to Chaney’s complaint, Giddings said that she posted a link to the article identifying the alleged victim and did not write it herself.
“I did not edit the content or have any control over the content,” Giddings wrote in the response. “In effect, I performed the modern version of the old practice of handling someone a page of the newspaper from the newsstand.”
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