“Purge:” Gordon Sondland Probably Just Won Himself Another Subpoena

Since we’re talking about people avenging themselves for being targeted by Trump’s corruption, I wanted to look the lawsuit Gordon Sondland filed the other day against the State Department and/or Mike Pompeo in his private capacity. Sondland says that Pompeo promised to reimburse what has amounted to $1.8 million in legal fees for testifying in Trump’s first impeachment, but that Pompeo reneged on that promise. So the suit is explicitly about getting reimbursed.

Maybe the lawsuit will work, as he ostensibly intends, or maybe the government will declare immunity.

But there are several details of his suit that will — and probably were designed (especially in the wake of the news that Rudy Giuliani had his devices seized) to win Sondland an invitation to testify in SDNY, which may have the effect of expanding their existing investigation into Rudy into the cover-up.

First, Sondland says that Pompeo promised to reimburse his legal fees twice. And while Sondland describes others besides Pompeo at State who knew about it, the promise itself was made orally.

On October 16, 2019, Pompeo again reaffirmed that the Indemnity Undertaking was made with his knowledge and approval. Ambassador Sondland spoke with Pompeo via conference call from the Washington, D.C. office of his Private Counsel, who were also in attendance and listening on speakerphone. Pompeo promised without any qualification that the State Department would reimburse Ambassador Sondland the fees and costs of Private Counsel in full. Ambassador Sondland and his Private Counsel understood Pompeo to be stating that he had the authority to bind the Government to such an agreement. Ambassador Sondland relied on Pompeo’s promise and reasonably believed that he had the authority to bind the Government to such an agreement. The Under Secretary for Management and the Counselor to the Secretary of State also confirmed that Ambassador Sondland would be reimbursed in full.

I find it remarkable Pompeo would commit State without putting something in writing, and find it just as remarkable that a successful businessman like Sondland wouldn’t insist on having it in writing. Unless there was an understanding they would not put it in writing.

Sondland describes being “purged” after he testified truthfully, something that will help him make the case the decision not to reimburse him was political retaliation.

During the meeting with the Counselor to the Department of State, Ambassador Sondland stated that he had no intention of leaving his position in the near future. Instead, Ambassador Sondland mentioned that he might consider stepping down in the summer of 2020 to return to lead his businesses, and he wanted to give his colleagues notice to permit a proper transition. In response, he was advised that while the Administration appreciated his testimony, the Administration wanted to purge everyone remotely connected to the Impeachment trial. Accordingly, the Counselor to the Department of State asked for Ambassador Sondland’s resignation. In response, Ambassador Sondland said he would consider that proposal, but asked about his attorneys’ fees. The Counselor to the Department of State told Ambassador Sondland to speak with the Under Secretary for Management, who would take care of his attorneys’ fees. Later that day, Ambassador Sondland confirmed he would not resign because he did not do anything improper. After that, everything changed. Ambassador Sondland did not receive his attorneys’ fees, notwithstanding the promises from the State Department that the attorneys’ fees would be paid.

Sondland describes that he didn’t have access to any of the underlying materials to help prepare, which will at the very least help him explain his first, less-truthful testimony.

As Ambassador Sondland prepared for a second round of testimony, the Department of State continued to restrict Ambassador Sondland’s access to materials essential to his preparation

But it will also support a inference that he was asked to participate in a cover-up of what really happened.

Then there are details that Sondland didn’t necessarily need to include, such as when and how he learned about the whistleblower complaint and how he met with Kurt Volker and Pompeo to discuss the complaint.

22. On September 25, 2019, Ambassador Sondland and Pompeo attended the eighteenth annual Transatlantic Dinner. Ambassador Sondland was the only U.S. ambassador in attendance, which hosted the NATO Secretary General, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and foreign ministers from Europe and Canada. During the dinner, Ambassador Sondland received an urgent phone call from The White House alerting him that his name appeared in a whistleblower complaint received by the Office of the White House Counsel.

23. The following day, September 26, 2019, Ambassador Sondland and Pompeo met to discuss the whistleblower complaint with Ambassador Kurt Volker, United States Special Representative for Ukraine.

When Rudy complained about having his phone seized, he said that he was just cooperating in State Department investigations. Now, a former State Department participant has let it be known that State really didn’t want the full story of what happened to come out.

I’d say SDNY will find it hard to pass up that testimony.

36 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    This part caught my eye: “The Under Secretary for Management and the Counselor to the Secretary of State also confirmed that Ambassador Sondland would be reimbursed in full.”

    Sondland says that he was on a speakerphone in his counsel’s office, with his own attorney as part of the call. This item here makes me wonder if these two very high-ranking State officials were similarly on a speakerphone on Pompeo’s end, or if this confirmation was made later in private communications with Sondland, either orally or in writing.

    • Rayne says:

      Speaking of phone calls, speakerphones, and overhearing, non-participating attendants, sure would like to know what happened to the actual transcript of the Trump-Zelensky quid pro quo phone call which was ratholed in a classified system.

      Wonder if any calls in which Sondland was a participant ended up in that same classified rathole. Perhaps with discovery by SDNY we’ll learn.

      • Leoghann says:

        Thank you. I’ve been trying to find out what happened to that “special server,” and when and how its contents might be revealed, for a year or more. It’s as though no one even remembers it, except you and me.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          You’re not alone. That call is among a number of primary-source documents (like Manafort’s deleted evidence that stymied Mueller) still burning bright at the end of the tunnels I find worth investigating. What about notes/memories of Russian translators while we’re at it?

    • BobCon says:

      Has there been any hint of the call being recorded ? I feel like his attorney would warn Sondland that some kind of record would be needed to recoup the big sum he was looking at, if not a recording than at least very detailed, timestamped notes.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    If Sondland was acting in his capacity as EU ambassador, why wouldn’t his legal fees already be covered by the government? Congressional testimony is a known hazard and since government officials accept being subject to oversight (dodging all the way, but IIRC it’s in their job requirements at least) when they take these jobs why would Sondland blow 1.8 million on a private legal team when the USG would provide one for free (if he was following the law)?

    The short answer might be that Sondland was operating outside of his duties as DJT’s backchannel and, knowing how DJT likes to stiff the help, was promised reimbursement if he fronted the costs. The tell here is the verbal nature of the contract, and FWIW I wonder whether the attorney involved can be directed to testify since that person is a witness to a potential criminal act.

    Pompeo taking the hit for this is also interesting, since I doubt Pompeo would do anything like this as a rogue actor, without the approval of DJT.

    • timbo says:

      Uh… Pompeo would have no problem doing something without Trump knowing it. He’s been known to pull all sorts of crap in prior scandals, the irony being that he was somehow promoted to CIA and State. If you want to see how rotten things are in politics at the moment, just look at what Pompeo has gotten away with in the past and given a pass on in his confirmation hearings.

  3. Thomas says:

    Could he really have spent 2 mil on this though? The 90K he got reimbursed for seems like it should be more than sufficient.

      • scribe says:

        At $1250 an hour (or more) lawyers get expensive quickly. And when they cost that much they seem to come in packs, not singly, if only because sorting through all the info and caselaw involved in Big Cases takes a lot of eyes.

        • Rayne says:


          $1.8 mil / $1250 = 1440 hours / 40 = 36 weeks

          That’s assuming just one lawyer at that rate doing nothing else and no travel. It’s probably sliced and diced across senior and junior lawyers, paralegals, admin personnel, additional admin services, and travel across a much shorter time frame. $1.8 mil’s not much at all.

          • Max404 says:

            Nobody is worth 1250 / hour. Sorry, I just can‘t wrap my brain around it. Pass the sausage, please, sir.

            • bmaz says:

              Lol, that is silly. There are many lawyers worth that freight. Easily. You pay for big time people, on big cases, in big cities. It has ever been thus.

              But not all hours are the name partner at his/her rate. It is much less for the associates and paralegals, who will rack up a lot of the time. And this is why even minimally competent lawyers have fee agreements, which Rudy did not seem to have. You spell all it out, and that is how you charge for it.

              • Max404 says:

                Gotcha !

                I spent 2 minutes on it but my minimum is a day. Where shall I send the bill ? Let‘s see. 8 x 1250, hmm, a tenner. Lots of sausage ! Yowser !

              • P J Evans says:

                “Lemons” friend was a computer systems consultant. He said he didn’t have trouble with the big clients, one of whom would hire his services a year at a time. It was the small ones, the “Fortune 500” ones, that were a PITA, because it was easy to lose his bill for 10K or so. (He ran about $100 an hour. Real-time systems control, a lot of it.)

                • Rayne says:

                  That’s a bargain depending on when that was — going rate for IT admin with security specialization in 2000 was $100.

              • BobCon says:

                Kushner must have spent a fortune during the legal wrangling over his security clearance and other disclosures, and it was a huge payoff for him.

            • Rayne says:

              Oh dear…you are very, very lucky not to need a really good attorney, especially one with deep subject matter expertise. A four-year degree, a JD, studying for the bar, all that costs a bunch just to get a squeaky new attorney who has zero experience. One who is a subject matter expert has earned their cred and the billable rate.

              May you and your family never need one.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I agree, $90k is light. When you are involved in a potentially explosive conflict with the president, and you have the resources Sondland has, you don’t rely on his government’s employees for your representation. Lawyers do come in packs for this sort of work and the costs mount quickly.

      None of that would surprise Pompeo or Sondland. That they didn’t put it in writing seems likely to have been part of how they worked together. Sondland would have appreciated the risk, knowing Trump’s habit of not paying his bills and throwing people under the bus. It’s not as if he couldn’t afford Trump reneging on the deal, and it would give him an excuse to score points if he needed it. It seems that Trump has given him one.

      • Rayne says:

        There’s a point in this which should get aired out for the public’s benefit, which is that a seasoned business owner understood his legal exposure well enough that he lawyered up adequately. It’s consciousness of guilt, and he asked a co-conspirator to reimburse his legal expenses because of the conspiracy.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          That a wealthy and sophisticated bidnessman and the Secretary of State personally chose not to put their deal regarding the President in writing sure makes your point. It is out of character for both – and probably violates State Department guidelines – let alone for an amount approaching two million dollars. As you say, it screams guilty knowledge.

        • Peterr says:

          It’s not necessarily consciousness of guilt. If a government employee went in to a hearing like this represented by government attorneys, those attorneys are — by definition — GOVERNMENT attorneys. That is, their client is not the employee but the government, and the legal interests of these two are not the same.

          In a situation like this, under the circumstances surrounding Ukraine, the Trump campaign, and everything else, getting a private attorney is simply good thinking.

          • Rayne says:

            Yeah, well, that “private attorney” is likely a criminal attorney because Gordon wasn’t doing legitimate work for the government as a government employee if he’s not being represented by government attorneys.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I think it’s both and that it is consistent with a guilty mind.

            Sondland, for example, would have considered his private lawyers to be better lawyers than any gubmint attorney. And, yes, he would have wanted them to owe a duty of loyalty only to him, and not to the government. One reason is that he might have wanted not to disclose certain things to a government lawyer, who might have an affirmative obligation to disclose some of it to others.

            But that does not explain the choice to avoid putting a reimbursement agreement for a seven-figure obligation in writing. It’s not normal government or business practice, and it makes enforcement difficult or impossible. But something made it necessary or worthwhile, something Trump and his loyal lieutenants wanted to hide.

            • Rugger9 says:

              The lack of a written agreement is something everyone comes back to in this topic. Sondland was too savvy a businessman to be this sloppy (unlike DJT) and as noted elsewhere in this thread Sondland probably knew DJT would stiff him like he stiffed Cohen and Rudy and….

              So, what did Sondland gain by entering in such a deal with the devil, so to speak? There has to be a quo pro for the quid, or perhaps this is why Sondland said what he did at the Impeachment 1 hearings. There is something missing that should be in evidence because Sondland really didn’t need to play on Trump’s team to keep making money. So, why be DJT’s lackey?

  4. Molly Pitcher says:


    On another ‘businessman’s’ legal front, the Washington Post says “Prosecutor in Trump criminal probe convenes grand jury to hear evidence, weigh potential charges”

    “NEW YORK — Manhattan’s district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges, according to two people familiar with the development. The panel was convened recently and will sit three days a week for six months”

  5. Super Nintendo Chalmers says:

    IANAL but didn’t Sondland lie in the closed door hearings in consideration for having his legal fees paid by the State Department?

    • Leoghann says:

      He testified on two consecutive days. On the first day, he didn’t necessarily tell bald-faced lies, but he adhered to the same general story the White House had been laying down for months. Since much of that story had been discredited by then, that night did not go well for Sondland in the press. The next day, he was much more forthcoming and reality-based.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        All the members of the Trump Bro fraternity for aging white guys–Sondland, Perdue, Louis DeJoy–believed that status was for sale in the form of a title that had garnered respect due to its prior recipients. And they will trade on those titles among rightwing influencer circles for the rest of their lives. They got their titles by gaming a porous and corrupted system, which is reason enough to deny them rewards ex post facto.

  6. Savage Librarian says:

    A little refresher from the Ukraine hearings: Sondland claimed not to be in the habit of taking notes. And he wanted to expand his hotel business.

    “Sondland to U.S. Diplomat: Trump Only Cares About ‘Big Stuff’ Like the Biden Investigation” – Erin Banco, Nov. 18 & 19, 2019

    “…Holmes said he had been asked to attend that meeting and take notes but that he was told by Yermak’s assistant that “Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yenmak had insisted that the meeting be held one-on-one with no notetaker.”

    “Holmes told House investigators that over a bottle of red wine he, Sondland and the other State staffers talked about business plans for the ambassador’s hotel business.”


  7. scribe says:

    To rehearse a comment I posted yesterday which went poof under mysterious circumstances….

    The government will have two strong defenses to this case which I can think of right off the top: one is the Anti-Deficiency Act and the general rule the government has against doing anything merely on an oral basis. I haven’t done the research but am quite sure there are at least one, if not many, statutory and/or regulatory provisions which expressly prohibit making oral contracts in the first place and make them unenforceable against the government in the second. The second is the Statute of Frauds. That provides that the “sale” of “goods” of a value over $500 has to be in writing to be enforceable. It also says that contracts which cannot be performed in one year have to be in writing to be enforceable. There are ways around that, but seeing as the Statute of Frauds has been on the books since the 1670s, and it was designed to avoid just the kinds of chicanery we see here – someone claiming they’re owed money because of an oral contract, where nothing is written down, it’s a strong argument.
    The point of this lawsuit is not to recover money – the plaintiff has the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of that. Rather, it’s to raise a stink and, in so doing, invite the SDNY to send him a subpoena.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for coming back to this, I’m looking into the comment which went poof mysteriously.

      EDIT – 6:23 PM EST — I went dumpster diving for your comment, swam deep into spam bin and I’m going to need a goddamned shower now. ~shudder~ Your comment is in there; I’m going to hazard a guess that the filter was ratcheted more tightly over a 48-hour window because of a huge surge of pr0n-related spam. Because you used the word “oral” more than three times along with punctuation marks like dollar signs and dashes, the algorithm probably kicked your comment into the bin along with other spam containing those same attributes. Either the filter was loosened today or the threshold is (3) “oral” and not one more in a comment.

      Would you like that comment freed, or would you like me to copy the text and append it to your comment above? Let me know by reply here. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience.

    • Rwood says:

      Excellent points that few seem to be grasping. I’ve only seen a few comments in other places that ignored the financial end and focused on the “Won’t somebody please subpoena me!” aspect of it.

      Love to see a list of possible charges this could bring down on trump and his merry men, Barr in particular. I imagine its rather long.

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