Who is Gordon Sondland? Portland hotel mogul’s incredible rise to Trump’s inner circle leads him to impeachment scandal
Two weeks ago, Gordon Sondland was the sole guest on Politico’s podcast in Europe, where the political magazine toasted him for 23 minutes on the future of trade between the United States and the European Union.
Sondland’s message was strictly liberal and pro-Donald Trump. The EU must open its markets to American competitors. Likewise, he added, Europeans must realize that they have been unduly hostile to the president.
“He’s a lot of fun,” Sondland said. “I think they would enjoy his company.”
It was another big day in Sondland’s new life as US Ambassador to the European Union. Amidst the splendor of Brussels, the hotel developer from distant Portland suddenly oversees the largest international commercial relationship on the planet.
Sondland did not tell the Politico interviewer anything about the two trips he had made since June to Ukraine, the former Soviet territory that was never part of the European Union. He said nothing about his meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, or that the mission there seemed to have very little to do with EU trade and everything to do with US presidential policy.
These trips have placed Sondland in the midst of a full-fledged political crisis that could cost him his job. The now famous whistleblower’s report, which details what appears to be Trump’s efforts to convince the president of a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, provided Congressional Democrats with sufficient evidence to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.
The whistleblower’s report mentions Sondland by name and claims that he has twice met with Ukrainian officials with Kurt Volker, the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, to help them “understand and respond to the various messages that ‘they were receiving official American channels on the one hand. and Mr. Giuliani on the other hand. The report also mentioned that Volker and Sondland had advised Ukrainian officials “how to ‘navigate’ the president’s demands on Mr Zelenskyy. “
What exactly they discussed is unclear. Sondland is known to have followed in the footsteps of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who allegedly asked Ukrainian officials to investigate main Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son.
The report also noted that Sondland had “spoken with Giuliani in an attempt to” contain the damage “to the national security of the United States.”
How it all unfolds remains a mystery. Sondland might come across as an innocent bystander. Or not.
“I have known Mr. Sondland for several years,” said US Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “I worked with him as a Portland community leader. While we disagree on several issues, it would be deeply disappointing for him to be aware of the President’s wrongdoing and choose to hide them. “
“We don’t know the outcome of this,” said Len Bergstein, a longtime political consultant in Portland who worked for Sondland. “But we’ve seen a number of prominent Oregonians cross that arc. They rise to a high level and then this scandal engulfs them. It is this scandal, which fall out of favor, that defines them.
Sondland did not return phone calls to ask for comment on his involvement.
Roots of the Holocaust
So who is this Portlander at the center of this historic international scandal?
Friends and acquaintances describe a motivated man with a fierce intellect and a healthy ego. He inspires strong feelings – few who know him are neutral.
David Nierenberg met Sondland during Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign in 2007. Although Nierenberg is politically more moderate, the two self-taught Jewish entrepreneurs hit it off.
Nierenberg, who lives in Camas, points out that Sondland’s parents narrowly escaped the Holocaust. After leaving Gdansk, in present-day Poland, Sondland’s father joined the French Foreign Legion and then the British Army to help fight the Nazis.
“Over the course of my life I have come into contact with a number of these people,” Nierenberg said.
“After the burning experience these people went through, if they have had the chance to survive and come to this country, they have a fiery zeal to succeed.”
By the time Sondland was born in 1957, the family had left Europe, stopped in Montevideo, Uruguay, and then finally landed permanently in Seattle.
From this stable foundation, Sondland grew and built a fortune. He was affiliated with Aspen Capital, a Portland-based money lender. But he is best known as the founder of Provenance Hotels, his Portland-based boutique hotel chain.
While Sondland was instinctively a Republican, he crossed the aisle. He became a close friend of Nierenberg and former Governor Ted Kulongoski. The Democratic governor appointed Sondland to the state’s Film and Television Bureau and appointed his wife, Katy Durant, to the Oregon Investment Council.
“Yes, politically it was a strange marriage,” Bergstein said. “But Gordon is not a fundamental conservative. They were both self-taught. They got along really well. “
Rabat from the hotel to the congress center
To say that Sondland is a free market guy is an understatement. He once gave his wife a copy of Ayn Rand’s first edition “Atlas Shrugged”.
His philosophy has never been more evident than in the long and lost battle he fought over the convention center hotel.
The Metro regional government was determined to build the 600-room hotel adjacent to its convention center in the hopes that it would attract more and more conventions to the city. Sondland continued, arguing passionately that it was unfair for the public sector to help fund its competitor.
He was so eloquent and convincing that Tom Hughes, then president of Metro, found himself sympathizing. “When you think about it,” said Hughes, “there’s been a while in these meetings, I thought he was making an honest point. “
Bergstein was part of Sondland’s team and remembers how it all started as a thoughtful political debate about the nature of the free market and government authority. But Sondland ultimately took a more pragmatic approach.
“At one point he switched to more aggressive tactics,” Bergstein said. “It was about increasing the pain (for Metro) so that he would get something out of it.”
The long standoff finally came to an end when Metro offered to donate a piece of land to Sondland. Like Hughes said, they couldn’t beat it so they bought it. Sondland agreed to a deal that gave his company, Aspen Lodging Group, land just south of the Convention Center.
Hughes said Metro came up with the idea from the City of Tacoma, which had a similar deal with Sondland.
Hughes said he was surprised by Sondland’s quick acceptance.
“You sit down across from him and he comes across as a legitimate businessman who has those ideals,” Hughes said. “Then, in the last heat, he takes the excess ground. It made me wonder how real these ideals were.
Sondland made one last request, Hughes said. When the compromise was announced publicly, he wanted Hughes to call him a “pillar of the community.”
Metro’s press release was released on January 22, 2016. The litigation was finally over, the press release trumpeted with a quote from Hughes:
“Gordon Sondland and other members of the coalition are pillars of this Portland community and I value their views and opinions.”
From Romney to Trump
By 2007, Sondland was connected enough and flush enough to become a bundler in Romney’s presidential bid.
In 2016, he changed his allegiance to Trump. But he and his wife have apparently cut ties with the divisive candidate. The couple abandoned a fundraiser they were supposed to organize. They publicly repudiated Trump for his treatment of a Muslim American family whose son had been a soldier and was killed in the Middle East.
“Trump’s ever-changing positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels” that the couple could no longer support him, a spokesperson for the couple said at the time.
But after Trump won the presidency, Sondland moved quickly to regain Trump’s favor. His companies donated $ 1 million to Trump’s nomination.
The move paid off last year when Trump appointed Sondland’s ambassador to the European Union.
Sondland seemed comfortably settled in his new world until the Ukrainian controversy erupted. While it’s still unclear exactly what Sondland and his fellow diplomat Volker were doing in Ukraine, the whistleblower’s complaint shines a light on their work.
Volker suddenly resigned on Friday.
House Democrats assigned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday. They also announced their intention to depose Sondland, Volker and several others in the coming weeks.
“I don’t know what Gordon did in Ukraine,” Nierenberg said. “I have no reason to believe he did anything wrong. I never had a reason to question his ethics during the years I worked with him.
Nierenberg said he believed Sondland was just another victim of the Trump administration.
“I have a feeling of deep sadness to see the reputations of good people being tarnished by their association with this guy,” Nierenberg said. “I never thought that the day would come when I would feel sympathetic towards Jeff Sessions. But it is.