Gordon Sondland, Donald Trump’s ambassador to the EU, is a self-made, free-market advocating hotelier whose family escaped Nazi Germany.
Politico labeled Sondland a “long-time establishment Republican.” On his website, Sondland describes himself as a “Portland businessman and philanthropist.” He has ties to the Bush family, serving as national finance co-chairman for the George W. Bush Center and on a leadership team for Jeb Bush’s failed presidential run.
According to Oregon Live, several aspects have placed Sondland under the political microscope when it comes to the impeachment buildup among Democrats in the House over Trump and Ukraine. First, there’s Sondland’s text message to Bill Taylor (the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine) in which he defended Trump. Secondly, he traveled to Ukraine several times since June 2019, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, even though that country is not part of the European Union, the newspaper reported. He’s also part of a whistleblower’s report over the meetings, with Kurt Volker, the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine. The whistleblower claimed that Sondland’s role was to “navigate the demands that the president had made of” Zelensky.
On October 8, 2019, Sondland caused controversy when he notified lawmakers that he wasn’t going to show for a scheduled closed door meeting with the House. His attorney said that he wanted to appear but was told not to by the State Department. Sondland attorney, Robert Luskin, told CBS News, “Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully.”
Sondland is testifying in the impeachment inquiry on November 20, 2019.
Trump tweeted: “I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public….”
According to Mother Jones, Sondland’s net worth is about $60 million, and he’s owned a Lear jet.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sondland, Who Once Called Donald Trump a ‘Hell of a Lot of Fun’ But Also Broke With Him in the Past, Is the Son of Parents Who Escaped & Fought the Nazis
Sondland is the child of immigrant parents who fled Nazi Germany, according to Politico. Oregon Live reported that Sondland’s parents left Gdansk, now Poland, and his father fought the Nazis in the French Foreign Legion and British Army. The family eventually settled in Uruguay and then Seattle, Washington.
Sondland spoke about Trump to a Politico podcast in which he also advocated for the free market. “He’s a hell of a lot of fun,” Sondland said, of Trump, indicating that he thinks Europeans have been too hard on the president. “I think they would enjoy his company.”
Sondland is so pro free market that, according to Vice, he once gave his wife a first-edition copy of Ayn Rand’s seminal book Atlas Shrugged. However, Sondland and his wife have had issues with Trump. According to Oregon Live, after initially supporting Trump during his run for president once Trump was the Republican nominee, they broke with him when he criticized Gold Star Father Khizr Khan. “Trump’s constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels,” their spokesperson said, according to Oregon Live.
The spokesperson also said, according to Willamette Week: “Mr. Sondland is a first generation American whose parents were forced to flee Germany during the years leading up to World War II because they were persecuted for their faith…Historically, Mr. Sondland has been supportive of the Republican party’s nominees for President. However, in light of Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khan family and the fact his constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels, neither Mr. Sondland or Mr. Wali can support his candidacy.”
2. Sondland Is a Self-Made Hotel Magnate & GOP Donor
Politico described Sondland as a “self-made, multimillionaire hotel magnate from the Pacific Northwest.” His company, Politico reports, is called Provenance Hotels, and it’s known for “refurbishing and reimagining old, historic buildings. Sondland “owns stakes” in four hotels located in downtown Portland: the Lucia, deLuxe, Sentinel and Westin,” according to Willamette Week.
According to Fortune, Sondland dropped out of the University of Washington to go into “commercial real estate sales,” starting with a bankrupt Seattle hotel in 1985 when he was 28 and eventually amassing a fortune.
Some of Sondland’s properties are the Healthman Hotel, Sentinel Hotel and Hotel Preston, according to Politico. His LinkedIn page says he attended the University of Washington from 1975 to 1978.
According to Oregon Live, he’s also affiliated with Aspen Capital, described by the newspaper as “a Portland-based hard-money lender.” Vice reports that Gordon Sondland is a long-time GOP donor whose governmental experience was largely working on an Oregon board to “bring television and movie production to the state.”
Sondland later changed his mind on Trump. “Gordon Sondland, the chairman of Provenance Hotels and a big supporter of the extended Bush family (including former President George W.), gave $1 million to the inaugural committee through four LLCs,” Open Secrets.org reported.
3. Sondland & His Wife Katherine Durant Run a Foundation Together
Sondland is married to Katherine Durant. He and his wife run the Sondland Durant Foundation. Its website says “The Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation was founded in 1999 by Gordon Sondland & Katherine Durant. The organizations supported by the Foundation include the Portland Art Museum, OMSI, OHSU, New Avenues for Youth, Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Portland Parks Foundation.”
The foundation’s mission is described as “Helping Families & Boosting Communities.” Sondland’s wife, who is also called Katy, “holds a Bachelor of Science in Business form Pepperdine University as well as an MBA in Finance from Willamette University,” according to the foundation’s website. Max and Lucy Sondland are also listed on the website. They are both college students.
Sondland’s website lists him as serving on the following boards: Sanford School Board of Visitors at Duke University; Oregon Health & Science University Foundation; U.S. Bancorp Washington State Advisory Board; National Finance Co-Chairman; George W. Bush Center.
4. Sondland Supported Jeb Bush in the 2016 Presidential Primary & Served on Mitt Romney’s Transition Team
Sondland was initially a supporter of Trump foe Jeb Bush. He was listed as a member of the Jeb Bush Jewish Leadership Committee. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor led the group, according to The Sun-Sentinel.
The foundation’s news page also showcases several events involving George W. Bush and Sondland Durant. For example, a 2012 article declared, “Sondland-Durant Facilitates Auction for Ford F-150 Owned By President George W. Bush At Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale.” The goal was to raise money for vets.
According to his website, Sondland has also served as Chairman of Governor’s Office of Film and Television; Chairman of the Portland Art Museum; Commissioner, White House Fellows Commission, appointed by President George W. Bush; President, Pioneer Courthouse Square Board Member; Governor’s Kulongoski’s Transition Team Member; and Mitt Romney Presidential Transition Team. Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, of Oregon, is a Democrat.
5. Sondland’s Text Message to Bill Taylor Is Playing a Role in the Ukraine Debate Involving Donald Trump
On September 9, 2019, at 12:47 a.m., Bill Taylor, former ambassador to Ukraine, wrote Sondland, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. You can see the full text exchanges released by the House here.
Sondland responded at 5:19:35 a.m. on September 9, 2019, writing, “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.”
When asked why he was showing up in Ukraine, Sondland told a state television reporter there, according to Vice, that Trump “has also given me other special assignments — including Ukraine.”