The ex-ambassador whose about-face on the witness stand twisted the knife in former President Trump’s impeachment has a reminder about the staggering costs of obtaining private counsel.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Gordon Sondland filed a federal complaint Monday seeking $1.8 million in legal fees that he incurred while preparing to testify at the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
“My client was promised reimbursement by no less than the secretary of state, and he wants it,” Sondland’s attorney Mark Barondess said in an email. “We look forward to getting it in court.”
A deep-pocketed Trump donor whose support landed him the cushy posting as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Sondland offered 17 hours of damning testimony in 2019 about Trump’s “quid pro quo” with Ukraine after being subpoenaed by the House.
Sondland says that after his testimony, however, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reneged on his “legally binding promise” that the government would reimburse Sondland for the legal costs he accumulated from complying with the subpoena to testify.
“Despite the fact that Ambassador Sondland was subpoenaed in his capacity as an official Government diplomat, Defendants bucked normal convention and denied him the services of any Government counsel,” the 21-page complaint states.
Sondland brought the suit in Washington with the Los Angeles firm Miller Barondess. He says Pompeo had directed him back in 2019 to retain private counsel in advance of the impeachment — a staggering task, considering the materials that the team needed to assemble.
“Ambassador Sondland was required to prepare for highly charged testimony under oath with international scrutiny without access to materials or anyone from the Government agencies which had knowledge of all the facts relevant to his testimony,” the complaint states. “Ambassador Sondland was forced to create a new team to reconstruct all the materials needed and to prepare for this daunting task.”
Two days after Trump was acquitted, Sondland refused to resign and was promptly fired.
“Ambassador Sondland confirmed he would not resign because he did not do anything improper,” the complaint states. “After that, everything changed. Ambassador Sondland did not receive his attorneys’ fees, notwithstanding the promises from the State Department that the attorneys’ fees would be paid.”
Calculating that the expense of retaining private counsel rose to $1.8 million, Sondland says the $86,040 that the State Department refunded him to date is only a drop in the bucket. Since then, the government has “bobbed and weaved” in all of Sondland’s attempts for reimbursement.
The lawsuit demands that either the United States government pay his fees, or that Pompeo pay out of his own pocket.
Pompeo’s motivation was “self-serving,” according to the complaint, as he hoped that Sondland would not implicate him, his actions as secretary of state should not be subject to governmental immunity.