Hickenlooper To Testify At His Own Ethics Hearing; National GOP Group May Also Be Involved

January 29, 2020
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.Matthew Putney/for CPR News
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.

The star witness of an ethics hearing about former-Gov. John Hickenlooper will likely be U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper.

Colorado's Independent Ethics Commission will convene in March to consider allegations that Hickenlooper improperly accepted free air travel from friends and supporters. A Jan. 28 letter from Hickenlooper's attorney shows that the former Democratic governor is expected to take the stand.

"So you know, we intend to call Governor Hickenlooper to testify on March 24," read part of the letter from attorney Mark Grueskin to opposing attorney Suzanne Staiert, which was released to CPR News by a Hickenlooper aide.

At the time of the contested trips, Hickenlooper was the state's governor. Now, he's the best-known candidate in the Democratic primary to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

"I cannot imagine the highly fevered partisan influences you must be contending with who would like to convert a hearing on a substantive legal question into a political circus. I trust you will resist their impulses with an even-keeled approach to keep the focus on the legal matters to be addressed," the letter continued.

Former Republican state Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, who filed the complaint, said he welcomed Hickenlooper's testimony.

"I think we fully expected Hickenlooper to testify. His illegal activities are central to this case and he has an obligation to get up on the stand and testify and undergo cross-examination," he said.

Hickenlooper's team also is drawing a national Republican group into the case. A separate document implies that an employee of America Rising Corp., an opposition research group, conducted the original public records research for the complaint against Hickenlooper.

"These are nothing more than politically motivated attacks that appear to be from America Rising, a national Republican group, and his testimony will make that abundantly clear," said Melissa Miller, a campaign spokesperson for Hickenlooper, in a written statement.

There is no implication in the Hickenlooper documents that it would be improper for America Rising to be involved. An email to the group's main address was returned as undeliverable Wednesday evening.

McNulty ultimately filed the ethics complaint in 2018 through his newly formed group, Public Trust Institute. He declined to say whether America Rising conducted research for the complaint, saying his sources were confidential.

He added that Hickenlooper's team, not his own, was the one creating the "political circus."

The state's IEC will consider whether six trips in 2018 should be considered illegal gifts under the state constitution. Gifts must be reported and can't exceed a token value.

McNulty's complaint stated: "Colorado law severely restricts when a covered official may accept flights on private corporate jets or other travel expenses from a for-profit corporation and, as documented below, Governor Hickenlooper has repeatedly violated these laws."

Hickenlooper's team has countered each claim under the state's gift rules, saying they were "frivolous" and didn't show any private gain or attempt to influence Hickenlooper. They argued some cases were exempted as "special occasions" involving personal friends, while others were allowed as official state business.

The case could take as little as one day to hear. The ethics commission will then make a decision. It can punish violations by charging fines. The commission is appointed by the legislature, the governor and the state's chief justice.