Not long after arriving [in Brussels], [Trump’s EU ambassador Gordon] Sondland started talking to subordinates about a need for more skilled and wealthy European immigrants in the United States in an attempt to ease tensions with the European Union, according to a person familiar with his views.
Many U.S. diplomats in the mission were unsettled by the idea, viewing it as racially motivated. One diplomat said that “the way this was going to come off was that the United States is fishing for white people, while reducing opportunities for needier people to immigrate.”
The person familiar with Sondland’s views said Trump had tasked him in July 2018 with developing a proposal to “fast track” immigration from the E.U. in consultation with the president’s main immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“The proposal languished and was eventually dropped,” the person said. “Ambassador Sondland did not understand that the proposal was racially or ethnically motivated.” It would have encompassed all E.U. countries, the person said.
Other people said Sondland abused his position of power, such as by pursuing a $1 million taxpayer-funded home renovation and bringing his dog to work and asking subordinates to walk it for him.
Sondland’s attorneys said the renovations were necessary and denied the account about his pet, saying “multiple people at the mission enjoy having Ambassador Sondland’s dog around. One person in particular has repeatedly asked Ambassador Sondland to walk his dog. No one has ever been ordered to walk Ambassador Sondland’s dog.”
Sondland was initially received by European officials in Brussels with relatively open arms at the beginning of his posting in July 2018. He delivered a quick, if symbolic win — reversing a Trump administration decision to downgrade the status of the E.U. ambassador in Washington, which affected how the diplomat is seated at dinners, when the envoy is invited to receptions and in what order the diplomat is called to pay respects at state funerals. (Local observers noted that without Sondland’s intercession, he would have been downgraded in the same way in Brussels, so it was in his own interest to get the decision withdrawn.)
But the initial warmth quickly reversed. Officials soon became frustrated with Sondland, who appeared to know little about Europe or the European Union and tried to push leaders of E.U. institutions to make concessions that were not in their power to grant, officials said.
On issues ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to trade talks to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Sondland demanded that European officials support Washington’s positions, one E.U. diplomat said. The problem was that their views reflected the carefully negotiated consensus of all 28 E.U. countries, meaning that shifts in policy had to come from national capitals — not officials inside the E.U.’s sprawling bureaucracies.
“In tone, manner and content he exuded disrespect and abominable lack of knowledge of Europe and the European Union,” said Nathalie Tocci, the director of the Italian International Affairs Institute and an adviser to E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “On top, the attitude was clearly that of someone who viewed the E.U. not simply as a competitor or even rival, but as an outright adversary.” [Continue reading…]