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Embassy allies say ex-ambassador Gordon Sondland’s bid for California post shows ‘a lack of transparency’

Open this photo in gallery During an interview with Good Morning America, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talks about her residency requirement for a cabinet position, on Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Dozens of diplomats at the State Department are fuming over an attempt by former ambassador Gordon Sondland to buy his way into a post he already has held.

Before becoming part of President Trump’s inner circle at the White House, Sondland served as ambassador to the Czech Republic under President George W. Bush.

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According to these former colleagues, the Trump-Sondland connection included a meeting last year in Washington in which Sondland offered to help Trump’s transition team.

The effort by the former ambassador, who was fired last year, came as Trump was reviewing its approach to Trump’s choices for secretary of state and national security adviser.

“This story is illuminating,” said Daniel Riedl, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and veteran career officer. “Every time we heard a news story of Secretary [of State] Pompeo firing someone, our concern was it might be a guy from the transition who had been serving on staff since the first day. You never know where they have had a connection to an ambassador who was kicked out of office.”

Open this photo in gallery Gordon Sondland at his home in San Antonio on Aug. 14, 2017. Ben Carlson/The Washington Post

Sondland “used to be working on the transition,” former ambassador Michael Doyle said. “What’s interesting about the story is the lack of transparency on Sondland’s part as far as me and others are concerned.”

As a New York real estate developer, Sondland already had some connections to Trump. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, purchased his penthouse atop One Riverside, a prime condominium tower in New York that Sondland had bought. Then, from the White House he serves as an adviser to the president.

Sondland arranged a meeting last year between White House officials and former State Department head John Kelly. The interest of Preet Bharara, an ex-prosecutor and current ex-district attorney in Manhattan, could not be determined.

Mr. Bharara sued Mr. Kelly, President Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month in federal court in Manhattan over their firing of Mr. Bharara. In the filing, Mr. Bharara’s lawyers said the decision to fire Mr. Bharara came “without justification and without warning.”

The associates who spoke with The Globe and Mail say Sondland has used his relationships inside the Trump administration to secure an ambassadorship, a rare honor for someone living in San Antonio.

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“How is it that [Sondland] can get the White House to meet with you, but you can’t meet with [the former ambassador] in New York?” asked one associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He’s a Texas guy. This is his hometown.”

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