New York: Three women have accused Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, of making unwanted sexual advances towards them years before his recent turn as a star witness at the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, according to a news report.
The women shared their accounts with ProPublica and Portland Monthly, which published them online Wednesday in a joint investigative project between the nonprofit news organisation and the Oregon magazine.
The publication of the allegations came exactly one week after Sondland appeared before Congress and gave what was widely viewed as damaging testimony about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and a “quid pro quo.” Sondland, 62, a businessman and hotelier, contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
The report identified the three women as Jana Solis, Natalie Sept and Nicole Vogel, who is the owner of Portland Monthly. The magazine said that Vogel was not involved in editorial decisions and that the magazine’s editorial team decided independently to pursue the story.
Sept confirmed in an email Wednesday night that her account in the report was accurate. The two other women could not immediately be reached for comment, but all three told the magazine that Sondland had retaliated against them after they rejected his advances.
In an email to The New York Times on Wednesday night, Sept said that she had been “haunted by this experience - especially since seeing Sondland’s confirmation as ambassador”.
“I never met either of the other two women, yet each of our stories contained corroborative elements, which were recounted in the ProPublica and Portland Monthly story,” she said. “I’m coming forward now so other women can tell their stories, and be believed.”
Sondland disputed the women’s allegations and questioned their timing in a statement posted on his personal website, saying that they were at odds with his character.
“These untrue claims of unwanted touching and kissing are concocted and, I believe, coordinated for political purposes,” Sondland said. “They have no basis in fact, and I categorically deny them.”
Vogel, 51, told the magazine that she approached Sondland in 2003 about investing in a magazine startup that would cover Portland’s art, culture and food scenes. After dining at a local restaurant with Sondland, she said, he invited her to a nearby hotel owned by his company and tried to forcibly kiss her after asking for a hug.
Despite the episode, Vogel told the magazine, she kept a lunch meeting with Sondland, who she said put his hand on her mid-thigh as they drove to the restaurant. Later, she said, Sondland substantially changed the terms of his pledge to invest in her publication.
Solis, 58, told the magazine that Sondland exposed himself to her during a 2008 visit to his home in Portland, where she said he had invited her to evaluate his art collection. She accused Sondland of forcibly kissing her and climbing on top of her when she visited his penthouse apartment on another occasion, which she said caused her to fall over the back of the couch as she tried to get away from him.
Sept, 35, said Sondland tried to forcibly kiss her after a 2010 networking dinner meeting with him, which she told the magazine she had hoped would lead to a job with the state film commission.
Jim McCarthy, a spokesman for Sondland, challenged the independence of the Portland Monthly’s reporting in a statement posted on Sondland’s personal website addressing each of the women’s accounts.
He called it “an outlandish conflict of interest” because of Vogel’s position with the magazine.
The magazine said it started reporting the story in October, around the time that Sondland gave a closed-door deposition to the House Intelligence Committee in which he said there was no quid pro quo by Trump seeking to tie foreign aid for Ukraine to an investigation into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sondland later changed his testimony to say that Trump had ordered him and other top administration officials to work with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to dredge up unflattering information on Trump’s political rivals from the former Soviet republic. Trump then said that he didn’t know Sondland very well.