The media are once against using sexual misconduct claims to tarnish the reputation of a man connected to the Trump administration.
Just as they did with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the media now report that three women have accused Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, of sexual misconduct. Their allegations relate to encounters with Sondland more than a decade ago, yet they are just now making their claims, as Sondland’s name is in the news as part of the Democrats’ impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump.
Sondland had previously undergone a public confirmation hearing to become an ambassador, yet none of these allegations surfaced at that time. It is only now, when Sondland is involved in the impeachment hearings, that these women have come forward – and each have an ulterior motive for doing so.
Further, the media outlets that worked together to report the women’s allegations – ProPublica and Portland Monthly – acted irresponsibly and unethically during the reporting process, and are expected to face a defamation lawsuit from Sondland. In a letter from Sondland’s attorney, Jim McDermott, the ambassador denied the allegations and explained that each woman had a motive to malign Sondland. “Notably, what each of these three women share in common is that they pursued Ambassador Sondland for financial and personal gain — an investment, a job, and insurance brokerage work — and he declined their proposals,” McDermott wrote.
Sondland’s team has exclusively provided emails to The Daily Wire sent between Sondland’s personal attorney, spokesman, and ProPublica Deputy Managing Editor Eric Umansky. The emails show that ProPublica and Portland Monthly refused to provide Sondland with the specifics of the allegations from the three women until November 23, even though they had been working on the article for weeks prior (one may recall a similar tactic was used by former Rolling Stone author Sabrina Rubin Erdely when attempting to contact the named fraternity accused of gang-raping her source, who turned out to be lying). Once ProPublica finally provided the specifics, they gave Sondland a deadline of 3 p.m. November 25 to respond, which is not enough time to obtain documents and information to refute the allegations. As such, Sondland’s team could only categorically deny the allegations without providing evidence to support those denials.
Sondland’s team asked for more time to respond, as the detailed allegations were sent to them late in the evening on November 23, a Saturday. Sondland’s team asked to move the deadline back to Wednesday, since his attorney was traveling and Sondland himself was in Europe. Umansky only agreed to push the deadline back to 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, November 26. Umansky also said at the time that they may provide additional questions during that time. Umansky had also alluded to unnamed sources that were allegedly told about the allegations at the time they allegedly occurred, but refused to give Sondland’s team the details of those claims. Umansky responded to Sondland’s teams questions about these details by saying: “The question here is whether Ambassador Sondland recalls these incidents occurred as described, denies them in whole or in part, or does not recall. The identity of people with whom the accusers shared their stories has no bearing on the Ambassador’s recollection.”
Sondland’s team responded by saying it was unfair to give them so little time when the reporting had been ongoing for several weeks, as they needed to find and review decade-old emails and documents to see what actually occurred at the times the women claimed.
It was November 7 when Sondland’s team first learned that ProPublica and Portland Monthly were working on a story alleging sexual misconduct on the part of the ambassador. They did not learn of the story from the reporters, but from employees at Provenance Hotels, which are owned by Sondland. These employees said they had been contacted randomly by reporters Maryam Jameel of ProPublica and Julia Silverman of Portland Monthly who said they had information regarding sexual harassment claims involving senior personnel at Provenance Hotels. The reporters asked these employees if they had any such experiences. Essentially, the reporters were blindly contacting employees to dig up dirt on Sondland.
Some of these employees contacted Sondland’s spokespeople. Sondland’s team then reached out to Jameel regarding the cold calls and asked what the basis was for her reporting. Jameel, according to a Sondland spokesperson, just laughed. The spokespeople then contacted Umansky for information on the investigation. In a phone call in mid-November, Umansky refused to give Sondland’s team the details of the allegations against them. According to a transcript provided to The Daily Wire based on contemporaneous notes of the call from Sondland’s public relations firm, Umansky said that they did have detailed allegations but would not share them with Sondland’s team at that time. It would be two weeks before those details would be shared. In response to the transcript, Umansky told Sondland’s spokesman that the “reporters are doing the job of journalism: asking questions and gathering information with an open mind.” He added: should we decide that the information we gather merits publication, we will give the subjects of the story an opportunity to respond in full. That means, we will tell the subjects of our story both the specifics involving them as well as any broader conclusions about them. In sum, we are committed to fair, accurate, and no surprises journalism.”
During an interview on CNN Tuesday night, Portland Monthly Editor-in-Chief Marty Patail and Silverman said they had been working on the story since October.
In response to a Daily Wire inquiry about the ethics involved in withholding the specific details from Sondland, ProPublica President Dick Tofel said, “we approached the subject of this story when we had completed the reporting and I think it’s very clear from the detailed response we received with respect to each of the accusers that Ambassador Sondland had ample time to respond.”
He added that “Ambassador Sondland admits to being in the time and place that each of these women say they were with them and he says that what they said occurred did not occur and that’s what we reported.”
It is true that Sondland’s denials appear throughout the article, along with some editor’s notes. Of course, that is not what sticks in the minds of readers presented with the story from the angle that there are sexual misconduct allegations against a member of the Trump administration. Those editor’s notes, however, should give readers pause. The accuser who appears to have prompted the story, Nicole Vogel, first told her story at an event in Seattle, after she had allegedly been moved to tears after hearing Sondland’s name mentioned in a segment on NPR. Sondland’s confirmation in 2018 was all over the news, especially in Portland, yet this did not apparently bring Vogel to tears.
An editor’s note on the ProPublica article mentions that Vogel just so happens to own Portland Monthly, one of the outlets that investigated the claims. This editor’s note says Vogel “cooperated with the story as a source” and “was not involved in editorial decisions.”
Vogel claimed to ProPublica that the story would not benefit her magazine, a dubious claim given the amount of media attention the local outlet. Vogel also told ProPublica that Portland Monthly had been placed in rooms in Sondland’s hotels, but that she withdrew the magazines “last week.”
Vogel claimed that she met with Sondland in 2003 to discuss him investing in her magazine concept. She claimed Sondland indicated to her over dinner that he was going to invest in her idea. He then invited her to view the art in one of the rooms of the Hotel Lucia and once there, Sondland requested a hug and then grabbed her face and tried to kiss her. Vogel then met with Sondland a few weeks later and that he picked her up in a vintage convertible and drove her to a restaurant. She said during the ride Sondland placed his hand on her thigh for about 10 minutes and that she placed her hand on his to keep him from moving further up her leg.
Sondland later declined to invest in Vogel’s magazine.
McDermott, Sondland’s attorney, wrote in his letter to ProPublica that Vogel did seek an investment from Sondland, but after due diligence, decided not to take her up on the proposal. On Thursday morning, Sondland’s team sent The Daily Wire an email from Sondland, which said he had initially been interested in investing in Vogel’s magazine and brought her to meet the publisher of a local media outlet in Vancouver, Washington due to his expertise. Sondland said that the publisher “declined to invest for several business reasons once he evaluated her prospectus and recommended that I not do so either.” In a follow-up email, this publisher said Sondland’s account of how Vogel’s proposal was declined “is correct.”
Sondland’s attorney also notes that Vogel “is a close associate of Rep. Earl Blumenauer,” a Democrat who has implored constituents to boycott Sondland’s businesses. Vogel also donates to Democrat politicians.
The second accuser, Jana Solis, initially said she met Sondland in 2003 or 2004, but then “reviewed her records after Sondland’s lawyer” was able to prove she didn’t meet Sondland until 2008. Sondland’s team was not informed that Solis then changed her story until hours before the deadline, a spokesperson for the ambassador told The Daily Wire.
Solis said she met with Sondland to discuss insurance, as she worked for Marsh & McLennan at the time. She claimed Sondland flirted with her during their lunch and said she was hired and that she was his “new hotel chick.” She claimed Sondland slapped her on the butt as they left the restaurant and said, “I look forward to working with you.”
Solis then claimed she visited Sondland at his home to appraise his personal art collection and that after she left the bathroom and met him in his pool house, he was naked from the waist down. Solis also said she met Sondland yet again, and this time he forcefully kissed her. Sondland denied all of Solis’ allegations and noted that records pertaining to Provenance Hotels’ dealings with Marsh gave no indication of concern. The insurance company began brokerage work for Provenance in 2008.
The third accuser, Natalie Sept, had been Portland City Council member Nick Fish’s campaign manager and sought Sondland’s help in getting a job in the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television in 2010. She claimed that during a dinner to discuss a potential job, Sondland sat on the booth side of a table and asked her to sit next to him, which she found uncomfortable. She claimed Sondland insisted on walking her to her car and then forcibly kissed her.
Sondland denied Sept’s allegations as well, and his attorney noted that Sept had been active in Democratic politics including as an aide to Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).
On Sondland’s personal website, a note states that he “intends to bring a lawsuit against those publications, their management, and others involved as swiftly as possible.”
In the letter from Sondland’s attorney to Propublica, McDermott points out that the misconduct allegedly took place at a time when Sondland could not be considered a public figure, meaning ProPublica and Portland Monthly would “not be able to claim that the ‘actual malice’ standard applies” in order to protect themselves from a defamation lawsuit.
“Should you proceed to publish, there will likely be eight-to-nine figures in damages suffered by Ambassador Sondland and his companies. And a court of law will evaluate your reporting – and Portland Monthly’s reporting – under a much less deferential negligence standard,” McDermott wrote.
Multiple media outlets have already republished the allegations against Sondland. The mere publication of the allegations are enough to tarnish his reputation. In today’s #MeToo environment, it is likely these allegations will hang over his head for some time, even though the timing and underlying information makes them suspicious.
“This is garbage journalism, obviously calculated to tamper with Amb. Sondland’s efforts as a witness in ongoing congressional proceedings,” a spokesperson for Sondland told The Daily Wire. “Throughout the reporting, ProPublica concealed and changed key details, denied us opportunity to review and verify the allegations, even as their key source actually owns the very magazine they are teaming up with. It stinks to high heaven and I expect readers will see right through it.”
In October, it was assumed Sondland would refuse to testify regarding his involvement in the alleged quid pro quo Trump offered to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Sondland, however, agreed to testify, and what he said was not entirely helpful to Trump. As Sondland’s team has pointed out, the timing of the allegations against Sondland appear to be an attempt to intimidate and influence his involvement in the impeachment proceedings.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said ProPublica gave Sondland just 24 hours to respond to details of the allegations. ProPublica sent the details just before 10 p.m. on November 23 and gave Sondland’s team until 3 p.m. November 25 to respond, which is more than 24 hours.