U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland emerged as the Democrats’ key witness in the impeachment inquiry last week, testifying that President Donald Trump had offered Ukraine a “quid pro quo”: a White House meeting in exchange for investigations of 2016 election interference and Burisma, a company tied to the Bidens.
Sondland was widely described as a Trump donor who bought his way to an ambassadorship, only to dump Trump to save himself.
But the facts are somewhat more complicated. Sondland never actually donated to Trump’s presidential campaign. In fact, he donated to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Gordon Sondland, the chairman of Provenance Hotels and a big supporter of the extended Bush family … gave $2,700 to the early favorite to capture the GOP nomination, Jeb Bush, and $22,000 to Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, last cycle, but none to Trump,” OpenSecrets.org reported.
Sondland had also backed Mitt Romney and John McCain — and had also supported various Democratic politicians.
Moreover, Sondland denounced Trump during the 2016 election in familiar “Never Trump” terms. After he was listed as a Trump bundler on a draft invitation for a Trump fundraiser in Seattle in September 2016, he denounced Trump publicly, saying Trump’s “positions” did not align with his “personal beliefs and values.” Willamette Week (WW) reported at the time:
Gordon Sondland and Bashar Wali are listed among the hosts of an Aug. 30 fundraiser for Trump. The Seattle Times uncovered the event invitation on Saturday, and WW reported that Sondland and Wali were listed among the event sponsors.
Buska tells WW via email that both Sondland and Wali have refused to take part in Trump’s fundraising efforts, because of his nationalist and anti-immigrant statements.
“Mr. Sondland is a first generation American,” Buska says, “whose parents were forced to flee Germany during the years leading up to World War II because they were persecuted for their faith and Mr. Wali is a Muslim American who emigrated to this country from Syria.
“Historically, Mr. Sondland has been supportive of the Republican party’s nominees for President,” Buska writes. “However, in light of Mr. Trump’s treatment of the [Khizr] 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.”
It was only after the election, once Trump had won, that Sondland suddenly became an eager Trump supporter, contributing $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, OpenSecrets.org reported.
It is unclear whether that helped him secure the ambassadorship. But Politico reported at the time that he was an ally of then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, former hear of the Republican National Committee, which had benefited from Sondland’s largesse over the years.
Sondland’s history of political donations tells the story of the Republican elite: devoted to the establishment, and quick to shift loyalties when they can perceive some personal advantage. That behavior was on display in the impeachment inquiry, where Sondland gave the media the “quid pro quo” they wanted, while later testifying that the president had actually told him explicitly there was “no quid pro quo” and that he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine.
A visibly frustrated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked Sondland why he had left out the “no quid pro quo” statement from his opening remarks, which had been distributed to the media before he began his testimony. Sondland said it was “not purposeful” and that he could not fit it into his remarks. “Couldn’t fit it in a 23-page opener?” Jordan asked.
In another exchange, with Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), Sondland testified that he was not Donald Trump’s “friend.”
He certainly is not: he is a member of the Republican establishment and the archetype of the donor class.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.