Portland businessman Gordon Sondland’s highly anticipated testimony on Wednesday eased the pressure he – and his hotel properties – have been feeling from critics of President Donald Trump.
Sondland, now the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, gave the House Intelligence Committee his third version of his role in the administration’s relations with Ukraine and its new president.
In this new version, Sondland said he believes Trump was clearly trying to hold up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Sondland also said that he kept several top administration officials looped in on his own efforts to get the Ukranians to agree to investigate the energy company – Burisma – that once had Biden’s son as a board member.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat who recently called for a boycott of Sondland’s hotel empire, issued a tweet proclaiming: “Gordon Sondland, welcome to the resistance.”
Kate Sharaf of Stand on Every Corner PDX, which picketed five of his luxury hotels in Portland, expressed skepticism Sondland is telling everything he knows.
However, she saw Wednesday’s testimony as progress and played down the idea of further demonstrations against Sondland’s properties: “He clearly is telling a lot more of the truth because he is trying to cover himself,” Sharaf said.
“… I don’t know that there’s much more for us to be protesting about.”
Blumnenauer said in a statement that the “third time is the charm, and he seems to have finally correctly recalled his knowledge of Trump’s abuse of his powers.”
The congressman’s spokesman, Sean Ryan, said in an email that Blumenauer had “moved on” from his call for a boycott after Sondland initially agreed to testify at a closed-door hearing on Oct. 17.
However, Blumenauer never publicly announced he was dropping the boycott. And Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, accused the Portland Democrat of trying to intimidate Sondland during Wednesday’s hearing.
“Mr. Blumenauer, you shouldn’t be using your influence to try to bully and threaten a witness before these proceedings,” Conway said.
Sondland told lawmakers he and his wife have received countless critical emails and as well as pickets and boycotts of his hotels that are “going on as we speak.” He owns Provenance Hotels, which has a chain of boutique hotels around the country.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, another member of the impeachment panel, shot back that it’s ironic for Republicans to complain about Sondland being bullied when “all we’re talking about is the president bullying to get something he wants done.”
While Sondland has been a prominent figure in the controversy over the president’s actions in Ukraine, Wednesday marked the first time that he’s spoke at length in public since House Democrats kicked off their impeachment drive.
Paul Gronke, a Reed College political scientist, said Sondland generally acquitted himself well.
“I think he managed to salvage his reputation here,” said Gronke, noting that Sondland had previously been accused of minimizing Trump’s role and playing down any link between Ukraine launching politically oriented investigations and receiving U.S. military aid.
Gronke said that in many accounts prior to Wednesday’s testimony, Sondland has been portrayed as a “buffoonish” figure who was in over his head in the complex world of international diplomacy.
“He wanted to salvage his reputation and he was not going to sort of continue to carry water for the president,” Gronke added.
Some of Sondland’s old political allies in Portland were also struck by his testimony.
David Nierenberg is a Camas investor and frequent Republican donor who broke with Trump.
“It appears that Gordon has moved in the direction of letting it all hang out,” he said, calling that “good for him and good for the country.”
Len Bergstein, a political consultant who once worked with Sondland on a hotel development issue, said he came into the testimony in a “real deep hole” as someone who was seen as participating in a rogue political operation in Ukraine.
Bergstein said Sondland instead portrayed Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as the key figure pushing the Ukranians to aid Trump – and with the apparent approval of such top administration officials as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney.
He said the Sondland he saw testify was very much the take-charge person he knew in Portland business and politics. He noted how Sondland talked about his refusal to take notes at political and diplomatic meetings – and how he insisted that it was hard to remember some of his conversations with Trump because he had so many high-level meetings with European leaders.
“There’s a certain amount of self-assurance there,” Bergstein said, “and a lack of a willingness to acknowledge that in some of these cases he was kind of out of his depth.”