The United States Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testifies Thursday in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Sondland was involved in the president's communications with Ukranian officials that are now under scrutiny. Sondland has strong personal and professional ties to the Pacific Northwest. KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick talked with Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner about Sondland's ties to the Pacific Northwest.
Brunner and fellow Seattle Times reporter David Gutman have reported on Sondland's background and local ties.
Sondland grew up on Mercer Island. His parents ran a dry cleaning business in West Seattle. His mother and father both fled Europe to escape the Nazis. Brunner said Sondland's family didn't have the money that families around them had, and he thinks that pushed Sondland to want to make a name for himself.
Sondland founded the Provenance Hotel chain, which operates the Hotel Max and Hotel Theodore in Seattle and the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, as well as several boutique hotels in Portland.
FROM HOTELIER TO POLITICAL PLAYER
"He has, over the years, been a political donor to politicians of both parties. Definitely has trended in his giving to Republicans, especially in recent years, but he also made friends with whoever was in power. He was an associate of former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. In fact, he talked about his time serving as sort of an ambassador between Kulongoski, who was a somewhat liberal Democrat, and the (George W.) Bush Administration. He said, 'We would work on these deals. They were always done with precision and behind the scenes.' And he said, 'There was always a quid pro quo.' So, he talked wistfully about the kind of deal making that now has placed him in the center of this Ukraine scandal."
Whether there was a quid pro quo is a major focus of the impeachment inquiry.
MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT TRUMP
Brunner said Sondland was listed as a co-host of a fundraiser for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. But he, along with other business leaders co-hosting the event, later removed their affiliation with the event, saying Trump was too controversial.
"Sondland was part of the movement among Republican donors to stop Donald Trump from becoming the nominee," Brunner said. "But then later, after Trump won, he decided that he wanted to be Trump's ally and friend again, I guess, and he gave $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee, funneled through four LLCs. That directly led to him being appointed ambassador."
AMBASSADORSHIP ALWAYS A GOAL
Brunner said Sondland had long wanted to be an ambassador.
"People that I talked with who have known Mr. Sondland said he was kind of open about it. It's always been an ambition of his — partly because of his family history, the history of his parents."