DENVER (AP/KDVR) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper didn’t appear Thursday at a Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, defying orders to do so as the commission considers a Republican complaint that private plane trips he took while he was Colorado’s governor violated the state’s gift ban.
Mark Grueskin, an attorney for Hickenlooper, logged onto the remote hearing 15 minutes after it started, citing problems with his internet connection. He told commissioners that Hickenlooper’s legal team had appealed to an appellate court a Wednesday night court order for Hickenlooper to appear.
Hickenlooper was also subpoenaed by the committee to appear but argued that the hearing’s remote format violates his right to face his accusers in person.
He suggested in-person hearings be held in August — long after his June 30 Democratic primary against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the November election.
Despite Hickenlooper’s appeal, the commission voted unanimously to ask the state attorney general to enforce the subpoena.
The attorney general’s office filed a motion in Denver District Court to enforce the subpoena and order Hickenlooper to appear. Judge Christopher Baumann will rule on the motion. He is the same judge who on Wednesday denied a request by Hickenlooper’s team to delay Thursday’s hearing.
A spokesperson for Hickenlooper, Melissa Miller, released a statement Thursday afternoon. “John Hickenlooper has made clear he will testify in person. Today’s debacle of a hearing has made clear that WebEx doesn’t work for a legal proceeding like this,” Miller said. “We will be opposing the motion to enforce the subpoena.”
Later Thursday, Miller issued another statement:
“As reported, today’s meeting was a ‘massive technical mess,’ confirming concerns we’ve raised for months. In order to put an end to the partisan political circus orchestrated by a dark money Republican group, Governor Hickenlooper offered to testify, and though that was rejected, he remains ready to appear.”
The Public Trust Institute, a conservative group led by Frank McNulty, a former Republican speaker of the Colorado House, has alleged that Hickenlooper violated Colorado’s ethics law by taking free flights on private jets as governor. Hickenlooper, who was governor from 2011 to 2019, has denied the accusations as politically motivated.
The complaint deals with travel to Turin, Italy, for a meeting of government, business and financial leaders, and a separate trip to Connecticut on a jet owned by billionaire Larry Mizel’s company, MDC Holdings, to preside at the commissioning of the USS Colorado, a U.S. Navy submarine. MDC Holdings is a large developer in Colorado.
Colorado law at the time prohibited gifts worth more than $59 to elected officials with limited exceptions. That figure is now $65.
“Coloradans expect that their public officials are not magnets for VIP signs,” attorney Suzanne Staiert, representing the institute, said in her opening statement.
But Grueskin countered that “some of the allegations made about appearance of impropriety and about the nature of some of the plane gifts would not meet (a) preponderance of the evidence standard” needed to find that the ex-governor violated ethics laws.
Late Wednesday, a Denver district court judge dismissed a bid by Hickenlooper to quash the subpoena that he appear at the hearing, which was being conducted remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to Grueskin’s late appearance, the start of Thursday’s hearing was delayed as commission members tried to mute dozens of people talking after they had logged on to or phoned in to the public session. Someone was heard giving repeated driving directions to someone else apparently in Denver.
The commission did make a 5-0 vote that Hickenlooper should be found in contempt of the commission for not appearing despite subpoena. Commissioners will discuss possible sanctions against Hickenlooper Friday morning. They hope he will appear.
About 5:30 p.m. Thursday, it was announced that Judge Christopher Jay Baumann granted the petition to enforce the subpoena in the ethics probe.