WASHINGTON — Former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. government, seeking $1.8 million in legal fees he accumulated during the first House impeachment investigation against then-President Donald Trump.
The suit says that Pompeo failed to follow through on a “legally binding promise” in which the federal government would reimburse Sondland for the legal fees he incurred during the 2019 House impeachment investigation against Trump.
Sondland was denied legal counsel from the government, the complaint filed in the federal court for the District of Columbia says, and he therefore had to put together his own team to prepare him for “highly charged testimony.” The ambassador was “forced to retain private counsel and he used the services of private counsel in reliance on Pompeo’s promise of reimbursement.”
“Pompeo assured Ambassador Sondland that the State Department would reimburse him for all of his legal costs; and through the fall of 2019, Pompeo and his staff continued to reaffirm his promise,” the lawsuit says.
A spokesperson for Pompeo said in a statement to NBC News, "The lawsuit is ludicrous. Mr. Pompeo is confident the court will see it the same way.”
Sondland incurred nearly $1.8 million in attorney’s fees and costs, says the complaint, which demands that either the U.S. government or Pompeo himself repays him. His lawyers say that the State Department told Sondland he would only be reimbursed just over $86,000 even though they say Sondland “had been promised by Pompeo that he would receive full reimbursement from the Government.”
Once Pompeo learned of Sondland’s testimony, which the former ambassador’s lawyers described as “entirely candid and truthful” about Trump’s quid pro quo with the Ukrainian leader, “Pompeo reneged on his promise.” The suit notes that Sondland was fired from the Trump administration a few months after his testimony and a few days after the former president was acquitted by the Senate.
“As a result, the Government has withheld reimbursement of Ambassador Sondland’s attorneys’ fees and costs in willful breach of the October 2019 agreement between Pompeo, the Government and Ambassador Sondland,” the suit says.
The complaint says that Sondland “demands a jury trial” on the issues outlined in the suit.
Sondland testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2019 that he and other Trump administration officials followed Trump’s orders to coordinate U.S. policy regarding Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani, who was Trump’s personal lawyer at the time. Sondland testified that he had “no reason to doubt” that during the infamous July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump discussed having Ukraine launch investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 presidential election.
CORRECTION (May 24, 2021, 11:30 a.m. ET) A previous version of this article misstated where Gordon Sondland served as a U.S. ambassador. It was the European Union, not the United Kingdom.