Key Trump impeachment Witness Sues Pompeo Over Legal Fees

Gordon Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, says Mike Pompeo reneged on his promise to pay his legal fees after learning that his testimony hurt President Donald J. Trump.

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A key impeachment witness against Trump sued Mike Pompeo over legal fees.

Gordan Sondland testified that President Donald J. Trump told him to pressure Ukrainian officials to conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

May 24, 2021, 4:04 p.m. ET

A former top American diplomat who was a key witness against Donald J. Trump during his first impeachment sued former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the federal government on Monday, demanding they pay his $1.8 million in legal fees from impeachment.

The lawsuit by the former ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, alleges that Mr. Pompeo had originally told Mr. Sondland the State Department would cover his legal fees but then backed off after Mr. Sondland provided damaging testimony to congressional investigators about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine in 2019.

Mr. Pompeo, the lawsuit alleges, misled Mr. Sondland about whether the State Department would represent him. Mr. Pompeo’s commitment to pay the fees was “abandoned apparently for political convenience,” lawyers for Mr. Sondland wrote.

“After Pompeo learned what Ambassador Sondland’s testimony was before Congress during the 2019 impeachment inquiry — words that were entirely candid and truthful (but uncomfortable to the Trump administration)– Pompeo reneged on his promise,” according to the suit, filed in federal court in Washington.

A spokesman for Mr. Pompeo said in a statement the lawsuit was “ludicrous.”

“Mr. Pompeo is confident the court will see it the same way,” according to the statement.

Mr. Sondland, a wealthy Oregon-based hotelier who went on to join Mr. Trump’s administration, testified that Mr. Trump told him to pressure Ukrainian officials to conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. He also said that there was a quid pro quo that conditioned a White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president in exchange for the Ukrainians announcing the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

During impeachment, Mr. Sondland was represented by Robert Luskin, a well-known Washington lawyer who spent weeks preparing Mr. Sondland for his testimony. Although Mr. Sondland gave testimony that hurt Mr. Trump, he faced backlash in Portland, where his businesses were hurt as they became synonymous with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Pompeo may have his own legal bills to contend with. Though the allegations against Mr. Pompeo relate to his conduct during his time as secretary of state, it was not clear whether the Justice Department will defend him. A Justice Department spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.

During the Trump administration, Mr. Sondland submitted his legal bills to the State Department, which agreed to pay only a small sliver of the $1.8 million tab, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Sondland then relayed to Mr. Pompeo that he would sue if the State Department declined to honor what Mr. Sondland claimed was Mr. Pompeo’s initial commitment to pay, one of the people said. Mr. Pompeo maintained that he never committed to having the fees paid by the State Department, the person said.

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