Gordon Sondland

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Gordon Sondland
Gordon Sondland official photo.jpg
United States Ambassador to the European Union
Assumed office
July 9, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byAnthony L. Gardner
Personal details
Born
Gordon David Sondland

(1957-07-16) July 16, 1957 (age 62)
Mercer Island, Washington, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Katherine Durant
Alma materUniversity of Washington

Gordon David Sondland (born July 16, 1957)[1][2] is an American diplomat and businessperson. He is the United States Ambassador to the European Union.[3] Sondland is also the founder and former chairman of Provenance Hotels and co-founder of the merchant bank Aspen Capital. In November 2019, Sondland testified as a witness at the Impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.

Early life[edit]

Sondland was born to a Jewish family[4][5] in Mercer Island, Washington,[6] the son of Frieda (Piepsch) and Gunther Sondland.[7][8] His mother fled Germany before the Second World War[9] to Uruguay, where after the war she reunited with his father, who had served in the French Foreign Legion. In 1953, the Sondlands relocated to Seattle where they opened a dry-cleaning business. Sondland has a sister 18 years his senior. He attended the University of Washington but dropped out and became a commercial real estate salesman.[10]

Career[edit]

In 1985, Sondland raised $7.8 million from friends and his wealthy brother-in-law and purchased the Roosevelt Hotel, a bankrupt Seattle hotel.[10]

Sondland’s company, Provenance Hotels, owns and manages hotels throughout the United States, including the Hotel Max and Hotel Theodore in Seattle, Washington; Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington; Hotel deLuxe, Hotel Lucia, Sentinel Hotel, Dossier, and Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon; The Hotel Preston in Nashville, Tennessee; and Old No. 77 Hotel and Chandlery in New Orleans, Louisiana.[11]

In 1998, Sondland purchased and redeveloped four hotels in Seattle, Portland, and Denver including Seattle's Alexis Hotel in partnership with Bill Kimpton. Sondland also is a principal in Seattle's Paramount Hotel.[12][13] Through Provenance Hotels, Sondland is developing hotel projects throughout the US, including in Seattle, Hermosa Beach, CA and Los Angeles, CA. Provenance Hotels specializes in adaptations of old buildings such as with the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, WA, which used to be a conference Sheraton, but now includes glass art by 46 artists including Seattle's Dale Chihuly.[14] Provenance is also known for designing or remodeling each hotel around themes that contain elements that relate to a location's history, art, culture, and local businesses.[15][16]

In 2013, Sondland and Provenance completed a renovation of Portland's historic Governor Hotel, renaming it Sentinel.[17] In December 2015, Sondland and Provenance announced the establishment of the company's first real estate investment fund, Provenance Hotel Partners Fund I. The $525 million fund was created specifically for hotel real estate investment and, at the time of its announcement, was the fourth largest fund ever launched in the state of Oregon.[18]

Following his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union by President Trump, Sondland's name was removed from the Provenance Hotels' website and replaced with that of his wife, who is now listed as the chairman.[19]

Political involvement[edit]

Sondland was a member of the transition team for Oregon Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski's administration and was appointed by Kulongoski to serve on the board of the Governor's Office of Film & Television.[20] He was appointed the commission’s chair in 2002 and has served in that capacity until 2015.[21] During his tenure on the film board, Sondland was instrumental in bringing the production of such television series as Leverage, The Librarians, and Grimm to Oregon[22] and presided over the state securing the production of feature-length films such as Wild starring Reese Witherspoon, Thumbsucker starring Tilda Swinton, and The Ring Two starring Naomi Watts. At the 2015 Oregon Film Annual Governor’s Awards, Sondland received the "Achievement in Film Service Award" for his role in growing Oregon’s film industry.[23]

Sondland also served as Oregon liaison to the White House. As an advisor to Kulongoski, Sondland suggested appointing Ted Wheeler as state treasurer, which Kulongoski did in 2010.[24] In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Sondland as a member of the Commission on White House Fellows.[25] Sondland collaborated with President Bush and Jay Leno on an annual charitable auction of an autographed vehicle, with proceeds benefitting the Fisher House Foundation and the George W. Bush Foundation’s Military Service Initiative.[26] He was a bundler for Mitt Romney's 2012 Presidential campaign, and in 2012, Sondland was selected to serve as a member of Mitt Romney's presidential transition team.[2]

During the 2016 United States presidential election, Sondland initially supported Donald Trump, but cancelled a fundraiser and repudiated Trump for his attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan.[2] In April 2017, it was revealed that "a collection of shell companies that obscured his involvement" donated $1 million to the Donald Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee.[27][28][29][30]

United States ambassador to the European Union[edit]

Sondland at the United States–EU Energy Council meeting in Brussels on July 12, 2018

In March 2018, it was reported that President Trump selected Sondland to be the next United States ambassador to the European Union, a position which had been vacant since January 2016.[31][32] [33][3] [34] Sondland's nomination received bipartisan support and he was confirmed on June 28, 2018.[4] [4][5]

As ambassador, Sondland said that strengthening US-EU trade relations is a top priority.[35] He has supported using a strong US-EU economic partnership to counter what he has called "economic aggression and unfair trade practices" from China.[36][37] In pursuit of this end, Sondland has promoted the idea of giving European governments access to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to allow them to better screen investors.[35]

Sondland has worked on data protection rules regarding U.S. compliance with the EU-US privacy shield.[38] He has also pledged to work with the EU to address global security threats.[39] He has been the Trump Administration's lead in talks with EU member countries on the U.S.'s decertification and withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal.[40][41] Sondland has repeatedly criticized EU member countries' creation of a "special purpose vehicle" (SPV) to bypass reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, calling the SPV a "paper tiger."[40][42][43]

Sondland has been a vocal opponent of the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport gas across the Baltic Sea to the EU.[44] He has argued that the pipeline would leave the EU dependent upon Russia for its energy needs and increase Russia’s leverage on key U.S. allies in NATO.[45] Sondland argued that "Putin uses energy as a political weapon. The EU should not rely on a bare-chested version of the Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort as a supplier, even if his gas is a bit cheaper."[46] 

The Washington Post writes that Sondland gained a reputation for "being indiscreet" and that officials "chastised [him] for using his personal phone for state business." He habitually traveled to Romania, Israel and other countries without coordinating his meetings with other officials. It was noted that he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in Washington. A former White house official commented, “He always seemed to be in D.C. People would say, ‘Does he spend any time in Brussels?’ ” The Post writes, "Sondland’s approach to the job was seen more as a source of irritation than trouble until May [2019], when he moved to stake his claim to the U.S.-Ukraine relationship."[47]

Trump–Ukraine scandal[edit]

U.S. Delegation at May 20, 2019 Ukrainian inauguration - U.S. Photo

On September 26, 2019, the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released the unclassified text of the whistleblower complaint regarding the interactions between United States President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.[48] In this document, Ambassador Sondland, along with U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Ambassador Kurt Volker were described as having "provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to 'navigate' the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelensky".[49] In an email exchange on July 19 they discuss the arrangements for the upcoming call between Trump and Zelensky. Sondland writes that he has briefed Zelensky and Volkner responds that the most important thing that Zelensky needs to tell Trump is that "he will help investigation and address any specific personnel issues if there are any."[50]

In the complaint released by the Committee Sondland's involvement in President Donald Trump's activity was also outlined in text conversations with the interim chargé d'affaires for Ukraine Bill Taylor. In an email exchange on July 21 Taylor wrote:

Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk's point that President Zelenskyy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics." Sondland replied, "Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext."[51]

In a September 1 email Taylor wrote, "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" to which Sondland replied, "Call me."[52] On September 9 Taylor wrote: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," and after a five hour pause Sondland replied:

"Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks."[53]

In his testimony before the Committee, Sondland said that after the email exchange in which Taylor had expressed concerns about withholding the security assistance he called Trump asking for clarity on exactly what he wanted. He said he clearly remembered the call and characterized it saying, “it was a very short, abrupt conversation. He was not in a good mood. And he just said, ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky to do the right thing.'” The Washington Post noted that adjusting for time differences, the call would have taken place between 12:31 a.m. Eastern time and 5:19 a.m. and the White House reported no record of a September 9 call between Trump and Sondland.[54]

After reviewing the information, The Washington Post concluded that Sondland had "seized control of the Ukraine portfolio to help Trump."[55]

Closed-door testimony relating to Sondland[edit]

On October 8, the Trump administration attempted to block Sondland from testifying in the impeachment inquiry.[56] Sondland testified October 17, 2019.[57][58][59][60][61][62]

Three weeks later on November 5, and following the testimony of other senior national security officials who told lawmakers that security assistance was also used to try to compel the Ukrainians to open investigations that might be of benefit to the Trump 2020 campaign, Sondland said that the testimony of the others had "refreshed" his memory and he provided updated testimony stating that he did in fact view delivery of the aid package as contingent upon the Ukrainian government publicly opening an investigation of Trump's political rivals as desired by the President. According to the testimony, he relayed this position to Ukrainian government officials.[63]

In early November, Fiona Hill testified that Sondland, as a newcomer unaccustomed to diplomatic protocols, exhibited behavior that was "comical" but "deeply concerning," and his lack of adherence to security protocols made him a "counterintelligence risk." Hill testified that in July, Sondland attended a meeting with Ukrainian officials and told them that an Oval Office meeting with Trump would occur if investigations began. She testified, "Ambassador Sondland blurted out: 'Well, we have an agreement with the Chief of Staff (Mick Mulvaney) for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start,'" and that John Bolton ended the meeting abruptly and later told her, "I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up."[64]

On November 13, William Taylor, the acting head of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified that a staff member who was later identified as David Holmes told him that he overheard a phone conversation about Ukraine "investigations" between Sondland and the president at a restaurant in Kyiv. The call was made the day following Trump's phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he asked Zelenskiy to investigate corruption. Taylor said there were two other people having lunch in the restaurant, and they heard the conversation as well.[65] Appearing in a closed-door inquiry on November 15, in a written opening statement Holmes said he heard Trump ask, "So, he's gonna do the investigation?" and Sondland replied, "he's gonna do it" adding Zelensky will do "anything you ask him to." Holmes also testified that Sondland later told him that Trump "did not give a shit about Ukraine" and "only cared about the big stuff ... the big stuff that benefits the president like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing." In the same conversation, Sondland was also heard to characterize President Zelensky's strongly favorable view of President Trump, informing the latter that Zelenskiy "loves [his] ass." [66] U.S. security experts were alarmed by the fact that Sondland called a U.S. president on an unsecured line in a public place, particularly in Ukraine, where calls are assumed to be monitored by Russia.[67]

On November 16, the House impeachment investigators released the closed-door testimony of former National Security Council official Tim Morrison. Morrison voiced concerns saying that during the time that he had worked with Sondland he was not following the normal diplomatic process as used by other personnel but rather was on "a second track," chiefly led by Sondland, "where Rudy Giuliani's name would come up." Morrison also testified that he had heard from Sondland that "US aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden." Morrison said that on September 7, Sondland told him of a phone call he'd had from Trump in which the president said, "that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it."[68] During his public testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives on November 19, 2019, Morrison stated that Sondland confirmed to him that there was indeed a quid pro quo for US aid to Ukraine and Sondland told him this following a telephone conversation Sondland had with Ukraine official Andriy Yermak [Wikidata] on September 1, 2019.[69]

Public testimony[edit]

External video
Testimony of Sondland to the House Intelligence Committee, November 20, 2019, C-SPAN

In his public testimony on November 20, Sondland said it was at the "express direction of the president" that he, Kurt Volker, and Rick Perry, commonly referred to as "the three amigos," worked with Giuliani on Ukraine matters even though they were uncomfortable with Giuliani's role. He said that the leadership of the State Department and the National Security Council, including Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, were fully informed of their activities and Giuliani's, adding "Everyone was in the loop."[70] He said that Trump, through Giuliani, was clearly demanding a public commitment by Zelensky to investigate Burisma (a Ukrainian gas company where Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden had sat on the board) and the 2016 election as a prerequisite to receive a White House invitation or phone call. "Was there a ‘quid pro quo? The answer is yes," he said in his opening remarks.[71] The quid pro quo in question was relating to the public commitment by Zelensky to investigate Burisma and the 2016 election as a prerequisite to receive a White House invitation or phone call.[72] He said it was "his personal guess" that the aid to Ukraine was also being withheld to achieve that goal, but that he never heard Trump say so. Although he confirmed that he had conversed by phone with Trump on July 26 as previously reported by Taylor and Holmes, who both testified that during that call Trump had asked if Ukraine would investigate the Bidens, Sondland said that he "had no reason to doubt" that the subject had included investigations but he "had no recollection" of discussing the Bidens.[70] Sondland testified to Devin Nunes that he remains "a proud member of the three amigos," and said that he would have objected to the Burisma investigation if he had connected it to the Bidens. In her testimony on the following day Fiona Hill was asked, "Is it credible to you that Mr. Sondland was completely in the dark about this [connection] all summer?" she replied, "It is not credible to me that he was oblivious."[73]

Philanthropy[edit]

Sondland founded the Gordon Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation in 1999, which was established to "help families and boost communities"; it has given money to various non-profits including $1,000,000 to the Portland Art Museum to endow permanent access for children under the age of eighteen.[74] The Foundation helped establish a Distinguished Chair in Spine for pediatric orthopedic spine research at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in 2012.[75] In 2014, the Foundation gave a $1,000,000 endowment to Oregon Health & Science University to establish the Sondland-Durant Distinguished Research Conference, a cancer research summit to begin in 2016.[76] In 2017, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University was created with the support of the Foundation.[77]

In November 2019, the Portland Business Journal noted that following Sondland's appointment as Ambassador, the Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation modified its website by removing a biography tab for Sondland and adding two new ones for the couple’s children.[78]

Personal life[edit]

In 1993, Sondland married Katherine Durant,[10] who is the founder and managing partner of Atlas/RTG, a holding company with a portfolio of shopping centers throughout Oregon.[79] Until 2016, Durant was the Chairperson of the Oregon Investment Council, the body that oversees the over $85 billion Public Employees Retirement System Fund.[80] They have two children, Max and Lucy.[81] In November of 2019, Nicole Vogel and two other women accused Sondland of sexual misconduct. The accusations, which Sondland denied, described instances of forcible kissing and retaliation in the form of withdrawn investments.[82]

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External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Anthony L. Gardner
United States Ambassador to the European Union
2018–present
Incumbent