USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

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USEU’s Amb Gordon Sondland Gets Portland Protesters (Plus Oath of Office Reading)

 

Official tweet below from @USAmbEU account shows that the protesters are not isolated in Portland;  there are also protesters and commenters online. As of this writing the following single tweet has almost 650 replies.

Read: USEU Amb. Gordon Sondland’s Prepared Statement For Impeachment Inquiry

 

 

USEU Sondland Turns Over WhatsApp Messages and Other Docs to @StateDept

 

Via Yahoo News:

The State Department waited until 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday to tell U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to show up for his scheduled deposition with three House committees later that morning, the ambassador’s lawyer told Yahoo News. Robert Luskin, Sondland’s attorney, said he got the extraordinary middle-of-the-night directive in a phone call from a State Department official he declined to identify. The official offered no explanation of the grounds on which the State Department was blocking Sondland’s appearance at the last minute.

Michael Isikoff reported that Luskin confirmed that Sondland has already turned over to the State Department WhatsApp messages, text messages and other documents in his possession relevant to the House investigation.
Also, which State Department official made the call to Sondland at 12:30 a.m.? Curious people wants to know.

Trump Admin Blocks USEU Amb Gordon Sondland From Being Deposed 10/8 Over #Ukraine (Updated)

 

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Episode Where Rudy, the Lawyer Throws @StateDept Under The Bus #whosdatunderbus

 

It looks like somebody just threw the State Department big time under the bus, two video clips on two separate days, and two separate Fox shows. In one on them, the president’s lawyer is waving his phone on teevee. “It’s all here … right here.” Should be interesting to find out who in the State Department actually sent him off on this um … mission, if it’s all there.  And if that’s true, then the Department of Swagger has a bigger problem. Folks might start writing stuff like ‘How the State Department Lost Its Swagger” or ‘Who’s That Under the Bus?’

As we’ve noted previously in May after the removal of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, the Secretary of State did not seem to see it fit to come forward to defend the United States top representative, a career diplomat, in a priority country in Europe. This is looking like a trend.  Remember when his career staffers got mistreated by political appointees, and he was MIA, leaving the apologies to be made by his deputy?  Tsk! Tsk!

In addition to Ukraine, the president’s lawyer now has other allegations related to China, Latvia, and Cyprus. Watch out! He’s going to teach us geography and capital cities! Who knows how fast we’ll get to 275 posts!

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Secretary Pompeo’s Swagger Report From the POTUS’s European Show

 

President Trump left Washington for the seventh foreign trip  of his presidency with stops in Brussels; London; Glasgow (Scotland); and Helsinki.  Secretary Pompeo was on a visit to six countries in eight days with Brussels as the last leg of his trip where he joined President Trump in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The Secretary’s swagger update continues telling his State Department employees that they “put a lot of mileage on the plane in a tight window of time. But our teams on the road, at posts, and at home delivered on the mission no matter where we were or what we were doing.”

He also informed employees that our new ambassadors to the Kingdom of Belgium, Ronald Gidwitz, and the European Union, Gordon Sondland “are off to a great start leading their respective missions” and that both are  “working closely with our NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison.”

Apparently USNATO mission is now in the new NATO headquarters and there was a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by the Secretary, Ambassador Hutchison, and Secretary of Defense Mattis. The Secretary told employees that “In many ways, this building symbolizes a new era for the most successful Alliance in history. Our goal is to strengthen NATO by increasing shared contributions and adapting it to better confront both conventional and unconventional threats.”

After President Trump’s confrontation at NATO which left the Alliance according to the NYT “intact but distracted and shaken”, the Secretary of State apparently chaired a meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, along with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and that he “encouraged greater stabilization assistance to support areas of Syria liberated from ISIS in Coalition-supported operations.”

He ended his report with the following inspiring words:  “You showed your swagger on every leg of this trip. Keep working hard, keep delivering on mission, and keep proudly representing the United States of America.”

He forgot to add that you should not forget to keep a brown paper bag handy in case you need to hide from the moon and the sun.

And then this — reports that the Pentagon embarked on “damage-control” after President Trump’s departure, and then the Secretary of Defense called that report fiction saying, “That was fascinating. I love reading fiction.”

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How many @StateDept people remain unaccounted for after the #BrusselsAttacks? (Update #5)

Posted: 3:23 am EDT
Update #1: 7:02 pm EDT
Update #2: March 25, 12:27 am EDT
Update #3: 12:25 pm EDT
Update #4: 3:51 pm EDT
Update #5: 5:57 pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]


Updated: 7:02 pm EDT: We understand that there are two individuals with the State Department who are unaccounted for in Brussels at this time. We will update when we learn more.

Updated: March 25, 12:27 am EDT: One of the two State Department individuals still missing in Brussels is a family member and part of mission under Chief of Mission authority. The second one is reportedly USG but is not part of the tri-mission (we don’t know at this time if employee or family member). 

Update #3: 12:25 am EDT: One is a family member and reportedly part of the USNATO mission; the second one who is USG but is not part of the tri-mission is also a family member.  

Update #4: 3:51 pm EDT:  The two unaccounted for are now the first two confirmed USG fatalities in Brussels. According to the AP  the State Department has confirmed that the families of two Americans had been informed of their deaths in the attacks Tuesday. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the names were being withheld out of privacy considerations. 

Update #5: 5:57 pm EDT: According to ABCNews, the two Americans killed in Brussels this week have been confirmed as the spouses of U.S. personnel. “A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the two Americans were living in Europe at the time of the attacks. Their names have not been released and the families have asked for privacy.”

Via state.gov | Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, March 23, 2016:

“So in terms of State Department or U.S. Government personnel, that is still also ongoing. We still have not accounted for every official U.S. Government employee or their members – or family members on the ground in Belgium – or in Brussels, rather. Partly, that reflects the size of the mission or three missions. There’s a bilateral mission, there’s a mission to the EU, as well as a mission to NATO. And as I said, partly reflects the fact that there’s a number of injured in the hospital – in hospitals around the city, and we’re still trying to gain access and trying to determine the identity of those and the nationality, obviously, of those individuals.”

The Brussels Tri-Mission includes U.S. Embassy Brussels, the U.S. Mission to the European Union (USEU), and the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (USNATO). Each mission has its own ambassador and DCM. Posts often have an administrative “warden” system for the official U.S. citizen community.  Shortly after the attacks, the mission’s or tri-mission’s phone tree/notifications would have been activated. But we should also note that the Tri-Mission has one of the heaviest visitor workloads in the world due to the num­ber of U.S. agencies that conduct business in Brussels.

 

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Confirmations: Smith, Sherman, Novelli, Kaidanow, Gardner

— Domani Spero

 

On February 12, 2014, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department:

  • Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, of New York, to be Representative of the United States  of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
  • Tina S. Kaidanow, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Coordinator for Counterterrorism, with the rank and status of Ambassador at Large (State/CT)
  • Catherine Ann Novelli, of Virginia, to be an Under Secretary of State (Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment) State/E
  • Robert A. Sherman, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Portuguese Republic.
  • Daniel Bennett Smith, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research) State/INR

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