Gordon Sondland, the former U.S. ambassador to the EU, is suing former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the government in a bid to have one of the two pay for $1.8 million in legal fees incurred during the 2019 Ukraine impeachment inquiry.
The Washington Post first reported the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C.
When the impeachment inquiry began in September 2019, Sondland alleged, he met with Pompeo and received an assurance: while government lawyers would not represent him in the inquiry, the State Department would reimburse Sondland for all of his legal costs relating to the impeachment.
But when it came time to pay up in February 2020, Sondland said, State Department officials told Sondland that “the Administration wanted to purge everyone remotely connected to the Impeachment trial.”
Sondland was fired, and received $86,040 in reimbursement from the government, the lawsuit alleges. The Portland hotel entrepreneur’s legal team, which included veteran D.C. litigator Bob Luskin, cost him $1.8 million, Sondland claims in the lawsuit.
In a statement to NBC, a Pompeo spokesman said that “the lawsuit is ludicrous. Mr. Pompeo is confident the court will see it the same way.”
Sondland provided extensive, albeit somewhat slippery testimony to the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry. He describes his testimony as “highly fraught, highly charged, and highly risky with tremendous consequences.”
He played a key role in affirming that there was a quid pro quo at the heart of the scandal, in which the Ukrainian government would have to deliver on damaging information about the Bidens in exchange for military aid and high-level White House contacts.
“Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland told Congress. “The answer is yes.”
In the lawsuit, Sondland says that his relationship with Pompeo and other White House staff cooled significantly after that admission.
“Testifying truthfully and candidly before Congress as cameras roll was in fact a fireable offense in Pompeo’s Department of State,” the lawsuit reads, saying that Sondland uttered “words that were entirely candid and truthful (but uncomfortable to the Trump Administration).”
Sondland goes on to describe Pompeo’s commitment to have the government reimburse his testimony as an example of “rogue actions” by the secretary of state.
“Indeed, Pompeo was making a promise that was not the type of act he was employed to perform, and which was not motivated by a desire to serve the Government,” the lawsuit alleges. “Instead, it was entirely for self-serving personal or political reasons in the hopes that Ambassador Sondland would not implicate him or others through his testimony.”
Those same political motivations spurred Pompeo’s refusal to make good on the deal, Sondland argues, saying that it was “abandoned apparently for political convenience.”
Pompeo is personally named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the U.S. government.
Should Pompeo attempt to argue that his promise to Sondland exceeded his authority as secretary of state, Sondland says that he will demand Pompeo cover the $1.8 million in legal fees.
“In the alternative, if Pompeo attempts to assert that he did not possess the authority to bind the Government to reimburse Ambassador Sondland’s attorneys’ fees, Pompeo was at all times acting for his own self-serving personal or political reasons, to further his interests to protect himself and others,” the lawsuit reads. “Thus, in the alternative, Plaintiff seeks to hold Pompeo personally liable for misrepresenting his authority.”
Read the lawsuit here: