WASHINGTON — Gordon D. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier from Oregon, Republican donor and fund-raiser, ambassador to the European Union and courier of promises, was not in the hearing room on Wednesday for the first round of public impeachment hearings, but he nonetheless had a key role.
In his testimony, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., recounted having been told by a staff member of a phone call Mr. Sondland had with President Trump over the summer. During the call, Mr. Trump was heard mentioning “the investigations” and Mr. Sondland later told the staff member that the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden” than about Ukraine, Mr. Taylor testified.
The testimony by Mr. Taylor and George P. Kent, another senior State Department official, placed Mr. Sondland in the center of what Democrats portrayed as a shadow Ukraine operation to use the power of the Oval Office for Mr. Trump’s political gain.
Mr. Sondland testified before impeachment investigators last month when he described the unusual role of Mr. Trump’s private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in shaping American foreign policy on Ukraine. At the time, Mr. Sondland also said he “never” considered there to be any precondition on the military aid for Ukraine that the president ordered frozen.
Nearly three weeks later, Mr. Sondland reversed himself and submitted additional testimony to investigators disclosing that he told a top Ukrainian official the country would probably need to give in to Mr. Trump’s demands and announce investigations into the president’s political rivals if they wanted to unlock the military aid.
This is what we know about Mr. Sondland.
Mr. Sondland is the founder of Provenance Hotels, a small chain based in Portland that began in 1985.
“We are not about buildings, because buildings can’t smile,” Provenance Hotels states on its website. Buildings cannot do other things, either, such as “listen, or anticipate a need, or engage a human being in the wonder of conversation.”
The Wealthy Donor
After Mr. Sondland submitted additional material to impeachment investigators, the Portland mayor, Ted Wheeler, announced that he would return the $16,000 that Mr. Sondland had given him over the years and donate it to charities, The Oregonian reported. Mr. Wheeler, a Democrat, is running for re-election.
A Plum Post in Brussels
Mr. Sondland arrived in Brussels in 2018 as the new American ambassador to the European Union, a presidential appointment. Although Ukraine is not a member of the European Union, Mr. Sondland involved himself in the diplomacy there and spoke with Mr. Trump about it a number of times.
Mr. Sondland’s résumé had little to indicate he was prepared to play a role in the United States foreign policy with Ukraine. He has said that his grandparents were from Ukraine, and his parents escaped the Nazis finding refuge in America. He said he is the first person in his family to be born in the United States.
Courier of Promises
Mr. Sondland was in Kiev on July 25, the same day of the phone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Mr. Sondland said he spoke with Mr. Trump minutes before the call and met with Mr. Zelensky the next morning.
In his interactions with Ukrainian and American officials this spring and summer, Mr. Sondland worked closely with Kurt D. Volker, the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine, and Rick Perry, the energy secretary. (Mr. Sondland referred to them as “the three amigos.”) Along with Mr. Giuliani, they were seeking to win a public commitment from the Ukrainians for investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Zelensky wanted Mr. Trump to set a date for an Oval Office meeting. Mr. Trump had ordered the freezing of nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine this summer.
During the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor described how one of his staff members had overheard the phone conversation between Mr. Sondland and the president. Mr. Taylor’s staff member was with Mr. Sondland while Mr. Taylor and Mr. Volker were visiting the front line of Ukraine’s conflict with Russian-backed forces.
Mr. Taylor, in his retelling of what his staff member described to him, said that after the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sondland, the member of his staff asked Mr. Sondland about the president’s thoughts on Ukraine. Mr. Sondland “responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
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