Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper appeared to contradict himself when he testified before an ethics panel last week, a move that may complicate his bid to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.).
Hickenlooper, whose acceptance of gifts from political donors has been the subject of an ongoing ethics trial, told officials that a 2019 lunch he had with a former Clinton aide was a personal meeting unrelated to politics. But the statement appears to conflict with Hickenlooper’s previous claim that the two had discussed strategy for his failed 2020 presidential bid.
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Hickenlooper twice violated the state’s gift ban when he accepted free luxury travel while serving as governor, a Colorado state ethics commission ruled on Friday. He was found not guilty on four other violations, including a 2019 flight from New Jersey to Colorado on a supporter’s private jet. At the hearing, Hickenlooper testified under oath that he had lunched with longtime Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan in New York City during that trip and he characterized the lunch as personal rather than political. However, he said in an interview last year that the two had discussed presidential campaign strategy.
The contradictory statements raise the question of whether Hickenlooper, who is engaged in one of the most contested Senate races in the country, lied under oath, a charge that could complicate his Senate bid. The ongoing ethics trial has already cast a pall over his campaign and provided grist for Gardner and Republicans looking to undermine his chances.
During the hearing, a lawyer for the Public Trust Institute, the government watchdog group that brought the ethics complaint against Hickenlooper, asked the former governor about the meeting.
"Lunch with Vernon Jordan. Who is Vernon Jordan?" said PTI counsel Suzanne Staiert.
"We shared a good friend who wanted us to have lunch together," said Hickenlooper.
"Okay, so that was a personal lunch and not a political lunch?" asked Staiert.
"Yes," responded Hickenlooper.
The Denver Post reported last year that Hickenlooper "flew to a philanthropy event associated with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in January and on the side met for lunch with Vernon Jordan, a longtime adviser to former President Bill Clinton."
According to the paper, Jordan "offered advice on what steps Hickenlooper should take next, including suggestions on whom else to talk to."
"He was very gracious and asked me about 2020, and I said, ‘Well, you know, my wife and I hadn’t made up our minds,’" said Hickenlooper at the time.
"So he was helpful, [but] I don’t think he was any more helpful to me than he was to other people," he added.
Neither the Hickenlooper campaign nor Vernon Jordan responded to requests for comment.
Frank McNulty, the founder of the Public Trust Institute, told the Washington Free Beacon that Hickenlooper's past comments conflict with what he said under oath.
"Clearly John Hickenlooper downplayed the political meetings he had while in New York City, and the Vernon Jordan example is proof positive of that," said McNulty, the former Republican speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives. "He was out there pitching his presidential ambitions and we now know that was the purpose of his meeting with Vernon Jordan, which is not what he shared with the ethics commission."
Colorado GOP spokesman Joe Jackson told the Free Beacon that Hickenlooper may have committed perjury.
"John Hickenlooper’s sworn testimony that his meeting with Vernon Jordan was not political is directly contradicted by his own public statements. While Hickenlooper has already been cited for multiple ethics violations, Coloradans deserve to know if he also committed perjury by lying to the IEC," Jackson said.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission found that Hickenlooper did not violate the gift rule in that instance. The commission determined that Hickenlooper had a genuine friendship with the owner of the private jet who spontaneously offered the flight from New Jersey to Colorado so that Hickenlooper could spend more time with his wife who was in the hospital.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission said the political discussion would not impact its ruling because Hickenlooper wasn’t engaged in state-related business.
"It does not matter whether the trip was to discuss Governor Hickenlooper's potential presidential bid," said the commission’s executive director Dino Ioannides. "The point is that part of the trip was not for state business."
The five-member ethics panel did find that Hickenlooper violated the gift rule on two other occasions while he was governor. In one instance, Hickenlooper traveled in a chauffeured Maserati limousine in Italy provided by Fiat Chrysler. In the second case, he flew to Connecticut on a private jet owned by a home builder. Colorado law prohibits elected officials from accepting gifts greater than $59.
The commission also unanimously voted to hold Hickenlooper in contempt after he initially flouted a subpoena to appear at the hearing.
Hickenlooper’s sentencing is scheduled for Friday, and he faces fines of up to twice the value of the illicit gifts as well as sanctions for the contempt charge.
The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board came out against Hickenlooper's Senate bid on Tuesday, writing that a "politician proven susceptible to inappropriate gifts by corporations is the last thing Colorado needs in Washington."