The Public Trust Institute, the group that filed ethics complaints against former governor and U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper, announced Thursday that it had sent a request for a subpoena to compel Hickenlooper's participation and testimony in a remote ethics hearing set for June 4.
The announcement was the culmination of a day of back and forth discussion regarding the Independent Ethics Commission's decision on Wednesday to go ahead with the hearing, despite the Hickenlooper campaign's efforts to delay it until in-person meeting could be held.
Mark Grueskin, Hickenlooper's attorney, sent a letter to the IEC Thursday suggesting August 18 or 19. In a separate letter to Suzanne Staiert, PTI's executive director, Grueskin wrote that Hickenlooper would participate, "assuming [the hearing] can be safely held on those dates. We’ve also indicated we can be flexible" about the August dates, Grueskin told Staiert.
Former Republican Speaker of the House Frank McNulty told Colorado Politics that the assumption about safety sounds like an effort to delay again in August.. "We're sticking to the June 4 date," McNulty said. "The commission has decided this is how they want to proceed and we respect that."
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Hickenlooper campaign manager M.E. Smith said the debate is about how the former governor will testify, not whether.
Smith said a remote hearing raises due process issues that cannot be overcome, a position that she said PTI also has supported in the past.
PTI should celebrate the IEC's request for an August hearing; instead, they refuse to even discuss an August date, Smith said, adding that the group appears to not care about resolving the complaint.
"They just want political stunts," she said. "That's what we should all expect from a partisan group backed by national Republicans and America Rising."
Smith pointed out that McNulty had been on KNUS Thursday morning, joking about the issue and further politicizing it. "From the start, it's been a political attack," and they've been caught misleading Coloradans once again, she added.
"We are ready to set a date for an in-person hearing in August. Why aren't they?" she asked.
The concern is a technical one; over the reliability of a remote hearing, one that Smith said would prevent Hickenlooper from being in the same room with his counsel.
Grueskin pointed out a tweet posted by Colorado Politics earlier Thursday over problems House Democrats had with Webex in holding a caucus meeting. The governor has a right to be with his counsel, Smith said.
Smith was asked if it was fair for voters that the issue could last until August and not see it resolved before the June 30 primary, when Hickenlooper faces former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff for the party's nomination.
Hickenlooper has been trying to resolve this for months, said campaign spokeswoman Melissa Miller. "We've been trying to put this behind us. It has nothing to do with the Democratic primary."
McNulty sees it differently. "I think they’ve made the political decision to push this back past the [November] election or as far as they can," in hopes that the commission doesn't come back with a decision until after then.
The ethics complaints filed against the former governor deal with travel related to a June 2018 trip to Turin, Italy, for the Bilderberg Meeting, an annual forum "designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America."
The complaints also included Hickenlooper's travel to Connecticut in March 2018 for the commissioning of the USS Colorado; private travel to New Jersey in January 2018 and to a wedding in Texas in April 2018; and travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August 2018 to attend the American Enterprise Institute’s Jackson Hole Symposium.
Both the trip to Jackson Hole and the commissioning of the USS Colorado were tied to his official capacity as governor, Hickenlooper said in his response. He submitted receipts for the Bilderberg meeting.
While the Public Trust Institute originally filed the ethics complaints in October 2018, a vice president for the Republican opposition firm America Rising began filing open records requests for Hickenlooper's travel documents in March 2018.
According to documents obtained by Colorado Politics, Allan Blutstein, senior vice president and director of America Rising's FOIAs/Public Records division, submitted an open records request to the Hickenlooper administration in March 2018, seeking travel-related documents going back to Jan. 1, 2017. Hickenlooper's deputy legal counsel, Jenna Goldstein, also responded to a second open records request filed by Blutstein in July 2018.
Those documents, according to the Hickenlooper campaign, became the foundation for the ethics complaint filed by the Institute in October. McNulty has refused to say who funds the institute or who’s behind the complaint. The campaign is not alleging there is anything illegal about America Rising's involvement.
America Rising has continued to send open records requests to the Polis administration, seeking additional documentation regarding the funds being used to pay for Hickenlooper's legal defense.