By Nick Budnick – October 17, 2019
In 2003, as George W. Bush’s White House echoed with talk of an “axis of evil,” Gordon Sondland, the man who is now President Donald Trump’s top diplomatic emissary to the European Union, was bird-hunting in rural Oregon with Ted Kulongoski, the state’s then-governor, the latter’s bodyguards trailing.
Turning to the life-long Democrat, Sondland gestured at the bodyguards’ holstered pistols, and said, “I hope those nine-millimeters have bullets in them,” recalls Jamsheed “Jim” Ameri, an Iranian-born Oregon businessman who in that moment was standing next to Kulongoski.
“Why?” asked Kulongoski.
“Well,” replied Sondland, “You’ve got this Iranian with a shotgun to your right.”
Kulongoski was tongue-tied.
But Ameri recalls erupting in laughter at the joke. In addition to being smart, Ameri says, his friend, the current U.S. ambassador, is “crazy-funny” and “always laughing.” Though maybe not so much these days.
That’s because Sondland’s role in the Trump administration’s campaign to pressure Ukraine is now being analyzed under a national microscope. After resisting a summons from Congress to testify last week, Sondland was subpoenaed in the impeachment inquiry, and has agreed to testify before multiple congressional committees Thursday morning.
In 1991 Sondland met Durant, a Portland real estate broker who was already affluent, and the two joined forces in business and in life, marrying two years later. In January 2018, Oregon Business named the two a “power couple.”
Sondland’s federal financial disclosure statement shows he and Durant have interests in dozens of holding companies, real estate firms, and LLCs across several states, with assets of at least $78 million. The couple reported income for 2018 and four months of 2019 amounting to between $5.4 million and $9.3 million.
In business, Sondland and Durant have largely avoided major controversy, with some exceptions.
In 2005, Kulongoski named Durant to the Oregon Investment Council, overseeing a portfolio of state and local pension funds that topped $60 billion at the time—where she served until 2017. The council often invested in companies Durant and Sondland did business with, causing Oregon investment advisor Bill Parish to describe it as a case study in the need for more S.E.C. oversight.
Note: This story was based upon original research by Parish & Company.