Susan Walsh/AP

Viewpoint: As the Rich Get Richer, the Ambassadors Get Worse

Gordon Sondland embodies an age-old problem—one that the flood of donor money into American politics is only exacerbating.

No other developed democratic country—and perhaps no other country in the world—would entrust any part of its foreign policy to someone like Gordon Sondland. A wealthy West Coast hotel owner, Sondland donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and was rewarded with an appointment as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

This week, Sondland became a reluctant star witness in presidential impeachment hearings before the House Intelligence Committee. In his testimony, he laid out his role in pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation that would boost Trump’s reelection prospects. But the ambassador also testified, albeit inadvertently, to his own ignorance of diplomatic practices and norms—and to the damage that an unqualified dilettante can do when representing the United States government. He boasted that he speaks with heads of state and senior government officials every day—but added that he does not document those conversations. “I’m not a note-taker, nor am I a memo writer. Never have been,” Sondland said Wednesday. Never mind that a designated representative of the U.S. government has no truly unofficial discussions with foreign leaders, and that memorializing who said what to whom is essential to every ambassador’s job.