Gordon Sondland: Trump’s man in Brussels in eye of the storm

Ambassador Sondland (C) arriving at Capitol, 17 Oct 19Picture copyright
Getty Photographs

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Ambassador Sondland (C) has now revised his 17 October testimony to the impeachment inquiry


It has been a torrid introduction to diplomacy for the rich hotelier appointed US ambassador to the EU by Donald Trump.

Gordon Sondland is now on the centre of the impeachment inquiry, which seeks to ascertain whether or not President Trump tried to stress Ukraine into discrediting potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden.


Mr Sondland made headlines after out of the blue altering his testimony to Congress and suggesting doubtlessly impeachable offence had been dedicated by President Trump.

He had been a little-known determine till that 5 November testimony. So how is he seen in Brussels?

Talking anonymously, one EU Council diplomat stated he had “a means about him that may rub individuals the fallacious means” and one other stated he was “not everybody’s cup of tea”.

Questions are being requested about Mr Sondland’s admission that he was given a “particular task” in Ukraine by President Trump, even if Ukraine shouldn’t be within the EU.

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Mr Sondland provided a glimpse into his private life in a “attending to know you” video, posted on YouTube by the US embassy in Brussels a 12 months in the past.

He sits on the couch along with his spouse of 25 years and chats about his household, his European immigrant roots, his love for flying as a educated pilot, and his intensive artwork assortment. The video is a comfortable, open portrait of a rich household wanting ahead to a life in Europe.

He’s the 20th US ambassador to the EU, in his first overseas posting, which can be his political debut.

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US Mission to EU

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In a US embassy video, Mr Sondland introduces his spouse Katy Durant (R) and their two kids

His background has echoes of the president who selected him: a multi-millionaire hotelier and businessman who set his sights on politics.

He had initially backed a Trump rival within the 2016 presidential race – Jeb Bush. Again then, Mr Sondland stated Donald Trump was out of contact along with his private beliefs “on so many ranges”.

However, when Donald Trump was elected, Mr Sondland donated $1m (£781,000) to his inaugural committee. Quickly after that he was made ambassador to Brussels.

Ukraine ‘particular task’

His political patch prolonged to Ukraine, and he cut up a lot of his time between Brussels and Kyiv.

Earlier this 12 months he informed a Ukrainian reporter: “We’re what are known as the three amigos and the three amigos are [Energy] Secretary [Rick] Perry, Ambassador [Kurt] Volker and myself, and we have been tasked with form of overseeing the US-Ukraine relationship, between our contacts on the highest ranges of the US authorities and the best ranges of the Ukrainian authorities.”

This function has since been known as into query by the earlier US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, who described it as “extraordinarily uncommon”, because it had little to do straight with the European Union.

Mr Sondland known as it a “particular task”. And that Ukraine function has put him within the highlight as a key witness within the impeachment investigation.

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AFP

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President Zelensky had talks with President Trump in New York in September

On 5 November Mr Sondland abruptly modified his testimony to Congress, saying he now recalled telling a high adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky that just about $400m in navy assist to Kyiv wouldn’t be launched until the Ukraine authorities introduced an investigation – that President Trump needed – into the enterprise dealings of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian vitality agency.

It was primarily a quid professional quo association with Ukraine that Mr Sondland had beforehand denied.

The testimony provides credibility to the central accusation that President Trump abused his energy in workplace by pressuring the Ukrainian authorities to take motion that will assist his 2020 presidential marketing campaign. President Trump denies this.

Abrasive or simply plain-speaking?

For Gordon Sondland, his sudden declaration has induced incredulity, and countless comedian materials on US prime-time TV networks.

On the CBS Late Present, comic Stephen Colbert commented: “Why did Sondland determine to revise his assertion to Congress? In accordance with him, incriminating testimony from different witnesses ‘refreshed my recollection about sure conversations’ .. huh, you already know that testimony I simply heard? It actually refreshed the previous noodle.”

Mr Sondland’s popularity in Brussels is blended, in line with ambassadors and senior EU officers I spoke to. Impressions vary from outward dislike of his type to open admiration.

They agreed to talk frankly, on situation of anonymity.

One senior EU Council diplomat stated “he talks in excessive tones – he is acquired a fashion and a means about him that may rub individuals the fallacious means.

“He is actually an knowledgeable in alienation. Most different ambassadors on this job understand how it ticks, produce other ambassadors’ cellular numbers, and are plugged into the way in which issues work. He hasn’t come from this world of diplomacy, does not understand it and appears to not wish to understand it both. And we’ve not seen that a lot of him right here in Brussels.”

One other stated they might “attempt to be diplomatic” – earlier than making clear that they a lot most well-liked the earlier ambassador. “This one’s not, properly not everybody’s cup of tea, as you say. Possibly a Lapsang Souchong…. it could possibly go away a bitter style.”

‘Very skilled’

With reference to tea, it is anecdotally reported that Ambassador Sondland makes use of a silent buzzer system throughout diplomatic conferences in Brussels to sign to his workers that he desires a cup of tea.

One ambassadorial adviser who has spent a long time in Brussels had kinder phrases. “He is aggressive, he is combative, some individuals may say highfalutin. However he appears very open and also you get the place he is coming from. I do know the place he stands and respect that.”

The official on-the-record view presents a unique take. Mina Andreeva is chief spokeswoman for the EU Fee, and stated: “We have now all the time skilled him as a really skilled counterpart, who has been useful in persevering with our transatlantic relations.”

Diplomacy at its most diplomatic.

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Ambassador Sondland and his staff in Brussels have been contacted for remark this week, however have been unavailable. Reluctance to interact with reporters seems to be out of step with the ambassador’s earlier efforts to succeed in out to journalists.

The chief Europe correspondent for Politico, Matthew Karnitschnig, tells a narrative which means that up till just lately, Ambassador Sondland went out of his solution to make a reputation for himself.

“Not too way back, we did a profile of the US ambassador to Germany. As quickly as that story ran, abruptly our telephone at Politico was ringing and it was none apart from Ambassador Sondland, questioning why we weren’t paying extra consideration to him. So I feel it is fairly attention-grabbing. This drive to get Trump’s consideration could have gone slightly too far right here in partaking with Ukraine and attempting to do Trump’s bidding.”

The impeachment hearings into Donald Trump go public this week.