UPDATE: The State Department prevented Sondland from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee today, even though he’d traveled from Europe to DC to do so. He would have likely refused to answer most questions put to him even if he had testified.
Trump also indicated today that he would refuse to cooperate with the House impeachment investigations against him. Nixon tried stonewalling for a long time too. Ultimately, it didn’t work for him and I doubt it will for Trump.
The most egregious example is displayed in the text messages he exchanged with two other diplomats over Trump’s withholding of $400-million in military aid to Ukraine until the country agreed to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden. While one of the diplomats thought the arrangement was “crazy” and troubling, Sondland wasn’t bothered in the least and took Trump’s word that there was no quid pro quo involved. Then, he warned his interlocutors to stop communicating via e-mail because he understood how sensitive the issues involved were. Clearly, there was a quid pro quo and Sondland is in the cross-hairs of House Democrats, who are on the verge of impeachment, because of it.
Another troubling aspect of his work there concerned an interview he gave to Ukrainian media:
In his interview with Ukrainian television, Mr. Sondland said the American-Ukrainian relationship was in the hands of “what are called the three amigos’’ — himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt D. Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations.
First of all, why would you call colleagues managing U.S.-Ukraine relations amigos? Not to mention that the term “three amigos” originates in a comic spoof of cowboy westerns directed by John Landis. How did he think this could possibly resonate in Ukraine? Finally, the term has also been used popularly in the Northwest to portray three interfaith clergy, a Christian, Jew and Muslim, who’ve toured the country promoting religious tolerance. Sondland was tone-deaf in appropriating this spiritual term and applying it to such a transactional, political relationship? Not to mention that the three don’t appear to be amigos any longer and they’re each about the face the spotlight in hearings which will precede Congressional impeachment proceedings.
Sondland started in life on a much smaller stage. He is the son of two German Jews who met when they were 15:
Sondland’s parents narrowly escaped the Holocaust. After getting out of Gdansk, in what is now Poland [and was then Germany], Sondland’s father joined the French Foreign Legion and then the British Army to help battle the Nazis.
His father had been a furrier before he settled in Seattle. But the women of Seattle have little need for furs in the mild climate. So his father and mother took classes at Seattle Community College and learned the business of dry cleaning. For years they operated a business in West Seattle, while their family lived on Mercer Island.
He earned his BA at the University of Washington. His bio says that he is a member of the Duke University business school board of visitors. Presumably, he earned his MBA there. When he returned to Seattle, he became a real estate broker, buying and selling small apartment buildings in the Capitol Hill and Queen Anne neighborhood.
In 1985, he got his big break when he bought a bankrupt downtown hotel, renovated it and eventually built it into a chain, Provenance Hotels. The business model involved purchasing distressed properties, refurbishing them, and reopening them as boutique hotels catering to business customers and tourists visiting the Northwest. In addition to the Hotel Theodore mentioned above, Sondland owns the Hotel Max, Tacoma’s Hotel Murano and hotels in Portland, including The Heathman. One of the key features of the hotel refurbishment is the installation of modern art throughout the hotel. His family has its own private art collection valued at $25-million.
He was also co-founder of Aspen Capital. During the 2008 financial crisis, 45% of Aspen’s real estate loans fell into foreclosure. Oddly, the company’s website does not feature Sondland’s name anywhere.
Sondland is not known as a major donor to Jewish causes. Nor is he, like so many other wealthy Jewish Republicans, a veteran of pro-Israel communal politics. Though he gives generously, mostly to Republicans, there don’t appear to be major donations to Aipac or any other Israel Lobby organizations.
Sondland oddly decried the lack of comity in national politics in a 2016 interview (two years before assuming his ambassadorship) and praised his brokering of the relationship between an earlier Democratic Oregon governor and then-Pres. George Bush. He pointed to the transactional nature of those interactions and noted how constructive they were for both parties. Which of course is deeply ironic because Trump operates solely on a transactional/quid pro quo basis [italics mine]:
Sondland decried rising partisanship and looked back fondly on his days helping a liberal governor ask for aid from a conservative president. But his language — extolling the transactional nature of politics — is striking given the controversy he’s involved in now.
“We would make these requests and they were done quietly, they were done with rifle precision and there was always a quid pro quo. The governor would help the president with something and the president would help the governor with something and it was very transactional.”
Now, “there’s less transactional, there’s less comity, there’s less ability to understand what someone else needs and figure out what you need and make a deal,” he continued. “It’s unfortunate because I think everyone loses in the process.”
Ironically, Sondland may be the biggest loser of them all (aside from Trump and possibly Giuliani) in the Ukraine “transaction.”
Here is another irony related to the Northwest hotelier:
Sondland “was not reticent” about his pursuit of a diplomatic post, preferring a German-speaking nation, which would have meant a son of Holocaust refugees “would have come full circle,” [Romney finance chair] Nierenberg said. “This is what he wanted and long sought.”
It’s not clear what coming “full circle” meant in this context. But it’s sadly ironic that he did become an ambassador and assumed the portfolio for the nation which killed one-million Jews during the Holocaust. But instead of honoring their memory or promoting Ukrainian awareness of the genocide, he promoted his boss’s corrupt agenda and meddled in internal Ukrainian politics. He may even play a key role as the inadvertent instrument of Trump’s impeachment.
At one time Sondland appears to have harbored some ethical standards: though he originally supported Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign, once the latter dropped out, the Republican donor offered to organize a gala fundraiser on Mercer Island for Trump. However, when Trump mocked a Muslim-American Gold Star family and their son’s ultimate sacrifice, Sondland canceled the event. At the time, it marked an embarrassing gaffe for Trump.
But once he won the nomination, Sondland came back on bended knee and begged the Don for forgiveness. He sweetened the pot with a $1-million campaign donation. This sweet quid pro quo earned him his ambassadorial nomination. The son of Holocaust survivors did pretty well for himself for a guy who partakes in transactional politics.