As the House Intelligence Committee prepared its report on impeaching President Donald J. Trump, reporters for Portland Monthly and ProPublica, the New York-based investigative journalism nonprofit, were putting the finishing touches on a Thanksgiving Eve bombshell, titled "Multiple Women Recall Sexual Misconduct and Perceived Retaliation by Gordon Sondland."
The story, published slightly after noon on Nov. 27, came one week after U.S. Ambassador Sondland's explosive congressional testimony, in which he implicated senior officials in a quid pro quo with Ukraine he said benefited the president.
But Portland Monthly and ProPublica provided on-the-record accounts by three women—the magazine's co-founder and publisher, Nicole Vogel; insurance company manager Jana Solis; and Natalie Sept, a former aide to City Commissioner Nick Fish—in which each said Sondland made unwanted sexual advances and then retaliated when they rejected him.
The story contained specifics, including the locations of the advances and quotes from people with whom the alleged victims shared their stories contemporaneously.
Solis recalled that Sondland invited her to his family's West Hills home in 2008 to see his art collection, some of which was stored in the pool house.
"I get out to the pool house, and he is now naked from the waist down," Solis recalls in the story. "He said something about, 'I thought we could chat.' And I said something, trying to keep his ego intact—not that he needed that, not that it wouldn't have been anyway—I said something like, 'I can't have that conversation.'"
In his response to Portland Monthly and ProPublica, Sondland denied any wrongdoing and questioned the women's motivation.
"In decades of my career in business and civic affairs, my conduct can be affirmed by hundreds of employees and colleagues with whom I have worked in countless circumstances," Sondland said in a statement. "These untrue claims of unwanted touching and kissing are concocted and, I believe, coordinated for political purposes. They have no basis in fact, and I categorically deny them."
Sondland, the founder of Provenance Hotels, also went on the attack on his website, saying the report was "fundamentally false and was produced with deceitful journalism methods far outside the bounds of basic ethical standards."
"Both the timing and sourcing of the reporting seem obviously intended to influence congressional proceedings in which Amb. Sondland is a witness," the statement continued. "Ambassador Sondland refutes the allegations entirely and intends to bring a lawsuit against those publications, their management, and others involved as swiftly as possible."
The logic was puzzling: Sondland claims his accusers are Democrats trying to undermine his credibility in the impeachment hearings; yet observers of all stripes agree he's been the most damaging witness against the president and therefore has served Democrats' interests.
Sondland's spokesman Jim McCarthy responds that the logic is clear.
"At the time Portland Monthly's reporting efforts began, in mid-October, Ambassador Sondland was the targeted subject of extremely hostile partisan disparagements, coming almost exclusively from the Democratic side of the aisle," McCarthy tells WW. "That included public attacks from Democratic congressman Earl Blumenauer, who also threatened the Ambassador's business. The primary source to the Portland Monthly's reporting, its own chief executive, has long been a significant financial donor to various Democratic party entities. That fact was concealed from Portland Monthly's readers. Her magazine also has also featured Rep. Blumenauer as a contributor, also unmentioned. Another source to the reporting has been a political aide to a separate Democratic member of Congress. Taken as a whole it therefore seems obvious that the reporting was intended to serve an ulterior political agenda—and that Portland Monthly and ProPublica were more than eager to play along."
In any case, Portland Monthly and ProPublica stand by their reporting. The House Judiciary Committee holds its first impeachment hearing Dec. 4.