Portland hotel owner plays role in Trump impeachment push
As the U.S. House of Representatives ratchets up its inquiry into the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump, longtime Oregon businessman Gordon Sondland finds himself in the thick of it.
Sondland, who Trump last year named to be the United States' ambassador to the European Union, has played a significant role in the events described in the whistleblower complaint that has roiled the country's political establishment for more than a week and was finally made public Thursday.
Sondland is scheduled to be deposed by the House on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on Sept. 26 used Twitter to demand Sondland "appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately" to explain his role in facilitating (presidential attorney Rudy) Giuliani's activities in Ukraine.
Sondland did not return a call from the Portland Tribune, nor did his company, Provenance Hotels.
While Sondland may not be in the president's inner circle, he could provide valuable information to Congress concerning the allegations now being made against Trump. The anonymous U.S. government whistleblower has suggested Trump used his presidency to withhold $391 million in U.S. aid to exert pressure on the Ukrainian government — which is still engaged in border hostilities with its much larger neighbor, Russia — to go after the son of the Democrats' potential 2020 general election opponent, Joe Biden.
The White House acceded to pressure to release a rough transcript of a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and to cooperate with Trump's personal lawyer and political operative, Rudy Giuliani.
In the months leading up to the call, Giuliani had been seeking support from Ukraine for the claim that Biden, while vice-president to Barack Obama, pressured Ukraine to help Biden's son, who was a board member of a Ukrainian gas company, according to media accounts.
Echoing the whistleblower's complaint, Sondland's own statements and Twitter feed confirm that the Portland hotelier played a central role in the Trump administration's interactions with Ukraine throughout this period. His potential role in the inquiry was first reported by The Daily Beast, and his naming in the complaint by Willamette Week.
In an interview with Ukrainian TV posted on YouTube, Sondland said he spoke with Trump personally "just a few minutes" before the July 25 call and then met with Zelensky the next day to discuss next steps.
Sondland said that he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker were "the 'three amigos' ... And we've been tasked with sort of overseeing the Ukraine — U.S. relationship (to) make sure that all of the reforms and all of the initiatives that we are undertaking with Ukraine stay on track and happen quickly."
But the "Three Amigos" are down to two: Kurt Volker resigned one day after the release of the whistleblower report to Congress.
The Aug. 12 whistleblower complaint says that, on July 26, Sondland and Volker "reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to 'navigate' the demands that the President had made."
The whistleblower also said that, before the July 25 call, Sondland and Volker had "spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to 'contain the damage' to U.S. national security" from Giuliani's efforts to dig up information on the Bidens.
Spotlight a new place for Sondland
Sondland now is under a national spotlight — a major change for a man who hasn't shied away from media attention, but seemingly preferred to stay out of a political spotlight.
In 2016, when his role organizing a Trump fundraiser was made public, Sondland quickly denied support of Trump, saying through a spokeswoman that Trump's positions don't align with his "personal beliefs and values."
Sondland is the son of Jewish parents who escaped Nazi Germany before World War II.
He was initially a supporter of Jeb Bush in Republican primary. He later contributed more than $1 million to the Trump inauguration through four companies he controlled, as was first reported by The Intercept.
In Oregon, Sondland has contributed to both Republicans and Democrats. Among the recipients were the campaigns for former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, City Council Candidate Stuart Emmons, Mayor Ted Wheeler and gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler.
Kulongoski in 2010 credited Sondland with suggesting he appoint Wheeler as state treasurer.
Asked for comment on Sondland and his current situation, a Wheeler spokeswoman said, "The Mayor would hope and expect that Mr. Sondland would testify truthfully before Congress, if he is called to do so."
In Portland, Sondland's Provenance Hotels owns and operates the Heathman, Lucia, Sentinel, deLuxe, Woodlark and Dossier hotels.
Bill Parish, an Oregon investment adviser, has been tracking the business arc of Sondland and his wife, investor Katy Durant, for more than a decade.
Parish said the fact that Sondland had no diplomatic experience before being catapulted to this crucial role underlines that ambassadorships are a matter of "pay to play," a system that Parish says needs to change.
Parish also cited Sondland's claim of residency in one of his Seattle hotels for tax purposes more than a decade ago, even while raising his children in Oregon. Parish said Sondland's current situation — and potential testimony before Congress — could answer questions about his character.
"Who are you a citizen of anyway, Gordon, and what do you stand for?"
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