PR1063: The criminal implications behind Gordon Sondland’s lawsuit against Mike Pompeo
You’d never guess it to look at him, but the guy Donald Trump named as his second Secretary of State graduated number one in his class at West Point and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Which just goes to show that the best education in the virtues of truth telling, moral rectitude and legal straight-dealing can’t keep a festering, gelatinous thug down.
So it must have been positively infuriating to an educated, festering, gelatinous thug like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he had to school a philistine like Gordon Sondland in the niceties and refinements of bribery. When Pompeo promised to pay Sondland’s legal fees for testifying at Donald Trump’s first impeachment hearing, he didn’t mean he’d actually pay them no matter what. It’s understood without having to say it out loud that Sondland was expected to lie.
So when on Monday Gordon Sondland sued Mike Pompeo and the U.S. government for $1.8 million in reimbursement for legal fees incurred during Trump’s first impeachment probe, he clearly didn’t understand the rules of bribery. Sondland, who as a U.S. ambassador in 2019 accused then-president Trump of seeking a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, says Pompeo, who lacked the guts to testify at the Congressional hearings himself, didn’t lack the gall to attempt to suborn perjury from Sondland.
The lawsuit alleges Pompeo “made a legally binding promise, both individually and on behalf of the Government,” to pay Sondland’s attorneys’ fees after the then-ambassador to the European Union was subpoenaed to testify before Congress. But Pompeo allegedly “reneged on his promise” after learning that Sondland told the truth. That truth was, specifically, that Trump and his aides, including Trump’s then personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, attempted to compel Ukraine to announce investigations that would involve then-potential Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Sondland did indeed play ball — at first. In his initial testimony in front of Congress he suffered temporary memory lapses. But then, Sondland said, the testimony of others had “refreshed” his memory. His subsequent bombshell testimony became a centerpiece of the former president’s first impeachment in the House of Representatives.
The civil complaint states that, “For all his troubles, Ambassador Sondland learned that testifying truthfully and candidly before Congress as cameras roll was in fact a fireable offense in Pompeo’s Department of State.” Retribution from Pompeo for Sondland telling the truth was swift. Mere days after Trump was acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate, Sondland was recalled from his position as ambassador. And, as the civil complaint alleges, there was no reimbursement for the ambassador’s legal fees.
This is what a trial lawyer would call a “good case.” There are solid witnesses to Pompeo’s formal promise to pay all of Sondland’s legal fees. Should Pompeo lose this case it could prove to be more than a mere financial inconvenience for him. A judgment in favor of the plaintiff might lead to a criminal indictment against Pompeo, with witnesses and evidence adduced in the civil case as exhibit A. It would make for an interesting and satisfying sideshow to the criminal main show involving Donald Trump.
What’s more, the Sondland case might also set a precedent encouraging others to sue members of Trump’s White House cabal as well. After all, there were a lot of shady dealings, broken promises, bribes, blackmail and damaging decisions emanating from Trump’s White House during Trump’s disastrous administration. As Letitia James recently demonstrated, civil cases are sometimes the acorns from which the mighty oaks of criminal cases sometimes grow. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.