Washington — Gordon Sondland, the former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union who was a key witness in the 2019 impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump, filed suit against the U.S. government and ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, arguing he reneged on a promise to reimburse Sondland for attorneys' fees accrued during the House investigation.
Sondland, who was fired after his bombshell testimony in the impeachment probe, said he incurred nearly $1.8 million in legal fees and accused Pompeo of abandoning his pledge that the State Department would cover his costs for political convenience.
"If Pompeo did not have the authority to bind the government, Pompeo went rogue and acted outside the course and scope of his employment and duties, making a promise in his personal capacity that was not the kind of act he was employed to perform, and not motivated by a desire to serve as the leader of the Department of State," Sondland's lawyers wrote in a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. "Instead, it was self-serving, made entirely for personal reasons for his own political survival in the hopes that Ambassador Sondland would not implicate him or others by his testimony."
Sondland told the court he retained a D.C. law firm after he was advised that neither attorneys from the State Department nor the Justice Department would represent him. Pompeo, Sondland said, "made a legally binding promise" to repay his attorneys' fees and costs.
The former ambassador testified under oath behind closed doors and in public about his knowledge of the alleged scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for a coveted White House meeting and military aid. In public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland implicated Mr. Trump and Pompeo in the purported "quid pro quo" and claimed top government officials knew of the arrangement.
Mr. Trump was ultimately impeached by the House on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December 2019. The Senate acquitted the former president on both impeachment charges in February 2020.
Calling his testimony "highly fraught, highly charged and highly risky with tremendous consequences," Sondland's lawyers said he learned that "testifying truthfully and candidly before Congress as cameras roll was in fact a fireable offense in Pompeo's" State Department.
Recalling a conversation with the counselor to the Department of State, Ulrich Brechbuhl, in early February 2020, Sondland said he was advised the Trump administration wanted to "purge everyone" connected to the impeachment trial, and Brechbuhl asked for his resignation. Sondland, however, refused to resign, arguing he did nothing improper.
"After that, everything changed," he told the court. "Ambassador Sondland did not receive his attorneys' fees, notwithstanding the promises from the State Department that the attorneys' fees would be paid."
Sondland was then fired from his post as ambassador to the European Union two days after the Senate acquitted Mr. Trump.
The lawsuit says Sondland was reimbursed $86,040 for his legal costs, but he argues that is far less than Pompeo's promise for "full reimbursement" by the federal government. Sondland also seeks to hold Pompeo personally liable for misrepresenting his authority if the former secretary of state attempts to claim he didn't have the authority to bind the government to cover Sondland's attorneys' fees.
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