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Gordon Sondland: art collector, museum patron, European diplomat — and the man who might get Donald Trump impeached

The hotel magnate, who owns an estimated $25m art collection, testified today in Congress that there was a quid pro quo between Trump and the president of Ukraine over investigations involving his political rival

Gordon Sondland testifying before Congress Screenshot via YouTube

This morning, top Democratic officials on the House Intelligence Committee pressed Gordon Sondland for knowledge about the alleged efforts by US President Donald Trump to withhold aid from Ukraine unless the Eastern European country agreed to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joseph Biden.

His answer to the impeachment committee's inquiry of whether there was a quid pro quo involved in the president's actions? The European Union ambassador testified that yes, there was, and that “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

Sondland joined the Trump administration as ambassador to the European Union in 2018, a year after it was revealed that the Republican mega-donor gave nearly $1m to the president’s inauguration committee through four companies registered under his name.

But just a few years ago, Sondland was more popularly known as a successful hotel magnate and philanthropist who gave millions to various non-profits and museums. According to financial disclosures, Sondland has amassed a $25m art collection alongside his wife, Katherine Durant, who helps run their namesake charitable foundation. He is also a major donor to museums across the West Coast. That includes Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, which has a cafe dedicated to the Sondland's mother, Frieda. According to the museum’s website, she co-curated an exhibition in 2012 at the age of 91. It’s said that she visited the museum every day for more than a decade. A catalogue for the exhibition was printed with financial support from Sondland and his wife.

“I’m also a lover of art,” Sondland says in a video biography showcasing the couple’s art collection. “Katy and I have assembled a wonderful collection. We’ve been fortunate even to loan a couple of paintings to the White House.”

As Sondland becomes a central figure in the impeachment inquiry, his investments in art could become a target. Last night, protesters flooded the streets of downtown Portland to call on the ambassador to tell the truth to Congress. Demonstrators made a beeline for three hotels in the area that are owned by Sondland’s company. “They sleep at these hotels, they’re sleeping with Gordon Sondland, they’re sleeping with Donald Trump,” one activist told Oregon Public Broadcasting, standing only a couple blocks away from the Portland Art Museum, which has its own gallery dedicated to the Sondland family.

Meanwhile, some pundits believe that Sondland’s testimony may strike the final blow to Trump’s disavowals that his requests for a "favour" from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was in any way impeachable. According to Fox News correspondent Chris Wallace, Sondland “took out the bus and ran it over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney. He implicates all of them.” Ken Starr, the former solicitor general who led the investigation into former president Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, echoed the statement on air: "It doesn't look good for the president, substantively."