Donald Trump Appointed Gordon Sondland Because He Gave $1M to His Inauguration Party, Ex-Ambassador to Russia Says

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, has emerged as one of the most prominent players in the impeachment inquiry threatening to take down his boss and benefactor, President Donald Trump.

Sondland is one of the so-called "Three Amigos"—along with Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker—accused of running the White House's parallel Ukraine strategy designed to bolster Trump's personal political fortunes, rather than build bilateral relations with Kiev.

The ambassador is central to the question of whether Trump sought a quid pro quo with Ukraine, exchanging frozen military aid for an investigation into likely 2020 rival Joe Biden.

But according to former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Sondland's appointment to the Trump administration is a perfect example of exchanging "private resources for a public office."

Sondland, who will give live testimony to House impeachment investigators on Wednesday, is a businessman who made his fortune in hotels and had no diplomatic experience before joining the Trump administration.

Before being appointed, Sondland donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration party. In a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday, McFaul said the payment was the "very clear reason" for his current position, calling the arrangement a "quid pro quo of the simplest kind."

McFaul was former President Barack Obama's ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. His tenure began amid mass protests against President Vladimir Putin, and McFaul angered his hosts by meeting with opposition figures and commenting on the ongoing unrest.

He resigned from his position shortly after the Sochi Winter Olympics and returned to the U.S. The Russian government has since banned McFaul from entering the country.

McFaul noted that Sondland "had zero diplomatic experience" before being assigned to "executing this corrupt quid pro quo" with the new Ukrainian government.

McFaul added that Sondland does not appear to have "any expertise in Ukraine, Ukrainian, Russia, deterrence theory, European security or diplomacy."

Instead, his value lay in the fact that "he contributed $1 million to a Trump inauguration party," McFaul wrote. "That's it. No other reason."

Indeed, he argued it may be that Sondland's lack of experience, expertise and reliance on the president for his position actually made him more suitable for the type of work Trump allegedly wanted.

"Sondland was the perfect teammate for Rudolph W. Giuliani and his private lieutenants, who had been deputized by Trump to dig for dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine," McFaul told the Post.

His involvement, the former ambassador continued, is "embarrassing, wrongful and maybe even illegal."

McFaul noted that Sondland is not the first businessperson to swap donations for a diplomatic position, but argued that such appointments are damaging America's international image. "We are the only country in the world that rewards campaign donors with ambassadorships," he wrote.

Such appointees often find themselves "out of their depth of expertise, both regarding the country in which they served and the art of diplomacy," McFaul warned. "One of them may have just helped to get the president of the United States impeached."

Gordon Sondland, Michael McFaul, Ukraine, Donald Trump
Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives for a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees October 28, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/Getty