Gordon Sondland has been one of the key figures to testify in the impeachment hearings. His appearance before Congress last week was lauded on the left as “impeachment testimony for the ages,” though his testimony hasn’t swayed public support for impeach very much. Today, ProPublica published a story which is likely to make Sondland regret his newly enlarged public profile. Three women claim that Sondland engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior toward them. Furthermore, the women claim that after they rejected his advances, his support for them vanished.
The ProPublica piece was published in coordination with a magazine called Portland Monthly. Owner Nicole Vogel is one of the women who describes her encounter with Sondland back when she was trying to raise funds to get the magazine started. Sondland, who is a prominent philanthropist who also owns several hotels in Portland, initially seemed interested in becoming an investor. After inviting out for a steak dinner to discuss her plans, Sondland suggested they walk across the street to one of his hotels on the premise of showing off all the art he had put into the lobby:
Vogel says he introduced her to staff on the first floor — the concierge, the doorman, the front desk attendants — before suggesting that she might want to see one of the rooms.
In Vogel’s memory, the room was small and mundane, but she made admiring comments before turning to open the door and let herself out when Sondland’s voice stopped her.
“I remember seeing my hand drop from the door handle,” she says. “I turned around, and he’s standing right behind me, and he says, ‘Can I just have a hug first?’”
So she did the only thing she could think of to ensure a safe exit, giving him a hearty-back-pat-we’re-all-friends-here hug.
“And as I pulled back, he grabs my face and goes to kiss me.”
Vogel brushed him off and he later made an apology. They already had a second meeting on the books and Vogel decided to keep it, hoping the hotel incident was a one-time mistake:
Vogel and Sondland had offices in the same neighborhood, Portland’s trendy Pearl District, which is full of warehouses-turned-galleries, shops and many restaurants. Instead of going to lunch there, Vogel recalls Sondland showed up in a vintage convertible and drove them to an out-of-the-way restaurant 8 miles away, across two rivers.
Vogel remembers little of the meal itself, but she recalls the drive back well. She says Sondland placed his hand on her midthigh and left it there for 10 or so minutes. She clamped her own hand on top of his so he couldn’t move it any farther up her thigh. They spent the rest of the ride in silence.
“God, I would love to have told him to shove it. To have kneed him in the balls,” she says. “But I didn’t do that. It was precarious.”
Days later, Sondland sent her an email saying he had decided against investing $25,000 in her magazine venture. He did offer a smaller investment if she could somehow raise an additional $100,000. Vogel wound up making up for the lost investment herself and was able to launch the magazine.
That’s one of the three stories in the piece. The second one involves a woman named Jana Solis who claims Sondland slapped her rear end moments after hiring her for a job. Sondland then invited her to his home on the pretext of evaluating his art collection and came out of his pool house with no pants on. Months later, Solis had a final meeting with Sondland in which he invited her to his penthouse to share a glass of wine, allegedly to thank her for all of her hard work. As she was drinking the wine, she claims Sondland started kissing her. She tried to get up and wound up falling over the back of his couch. Solis related the events in the penthouse and the pool house at the time to her then-husband.
Not long after, Solis got a call from Sondland who began shouting at her about issues she describes as “tangential” to her job. “He was pissed. He didn’t get his way [with me], and he was making it about work,” she told ProPublica.
The final story involves a woman named Natalie Sept who met Sondland through her work in local politics. After their first meeting Sondland invited her to the same steakhouse where he had taken Nicole Vogel. She began getting a bad vibe from the meeting and claimed she had to go home. Sondland offered to walk her to her car and, in the parking lot, allegedly attempted to kiss her. She quickly got in her car and drove away. That was the last she ever heard from Sondland. His offers to help put her in touch with professional contacts never materialized.
For his part, Sondland doesn’t deny knowing he three women in question or having business meetings with them but, through his lawyer, he denies any inappropriate touching or kissing.
Nicole Vogel’s decision to reveal her encounter with Sondland was prompted in part by his involvement in the impeachment story. She recalls hearing about him on NPR and breaking into tears in her car. She told ProPublica she had always shrugged off inappropriate behavior like his in the past, but the idea of a quid pro quo deal involving Sondland hit a little too close to home.