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'I don't know him': The many times Donald Trump's acquaintances suddenly became strangers

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/24/2019 Michael Collins, USA TODAY

Donald Trump, Gordon Sondland are posing for a picture: President Donald Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium. © Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP President Donald Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium. WASHINGTON – The way Ambassador Gordon Sondland tells it – under oath, no less – he and President Donald Trump are on such friendly terms that they communicate using colorful language and lots of naughty, four-letter words.

But Sondland hadn’t even finished his bombshell testimony during Wednesday’s impeachment hearing when Trump issued what has become his standard rebuttal.

“I don’t know him very well,” Trump said of the Oregon hotel owner who donated $1 million to his inauguration and was rewarded with the U.S. ambassadorship to the European Union.

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Trump often argues he's not familiar with certain people who run afoul of the law or whose words or actions cast him in a negative light.

Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted barely more than a week as White House communications director? “I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence,” Trump said.

Stormy Daniels?  “I had nothing to do with her,” Trump said of the adult film star whom he paid $130,000 in hush money after she claimed the two had a sexual encounter.

Here are 11 people Trump has claimed he doesn’t know or never met – despite, at times, evidence to the contrary.

Gordon Sondland

Gordon Sondland et al. sitting at a table: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies at the impeachment hearing on Nov. 20, 2019. © Jack Gruber/USA TODAY Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies at the impeachment hearing on Nov. 20, 2019.

The E.U. ambassador, Trump’s go-to guy on Ukraine and a star witness in the House impeachment inquiry, testified that Trump directed him and others to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine to publicly announce supposed anti-corruption investigations that Trump was seeking.

Under oath, Sondland confirmed the existence of a “quid pro quo” in which Ukraine was urged to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, one of Trump’s political rivals. In exchange, Ukraine would get the U.S. military aid it desperately wanted, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would get a White House meeting.

Asked if he used a vulgarity when telling Trump about Zelensky's desire to cooperate with the United States, Sondland said that sounded like something he would say.

"That's how President Trump and I communicate – a lot of four-letter words," he said.

Trump's retort: “I have not spoken to him much,” he told reporters on the White House South Lawn. “This is not a man I know well.”

Million-dollar question: How well does Trump know $1 million donors like Gordon Sondland? Some now work for him

Anthony Scaramucci

Anthony Scaramucci wearing a suit and tie: Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. © Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Scaramucci – aka, “the Mooch” – was a financier and one of Trump’s most vocal supporters when Trump named him White House communications director on July 21, 2017.

It didn’t last.

Trump fired Scaramucci less than two weeks later when the New Yorker called a reporter and trash-talked what he perceived to be the president’s enemies, including some members of Trump’s administration.

Trump’s take: “Anthony Scaramucci is a highly unstable ‘nut job’…,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I barely knew him.”

Scaramucci on Trump: 'Very clear that it’s impossible for him to win'

George Papadopoulos

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a crowd: George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, pleaded guilty to making a "materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement" to investigators during FBI's probe of Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election. © ALEX WROBLEWSKI, Getty Images George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, pleaded guilty to making a "materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement" to investigators during FBI's probe of Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election.

Papadopoulos, a young aide, was tapped by Trump to serve on his foreign policy team during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump lauded Papadopoulos as “an excellent guy” during a meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board on March 21, 2016. Later that month, Trump tweeted a photo of him seated at a table with Papadopoulos during a national security meeting.

But Trump’s lofty praise cooled quickly when Papadopoulos was sentenced to two weeks in prison for lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian contacts.

“Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

And that photo of him seated next to Papadopoulos? “I never even talked to the guy,” Trump told Fox News. “I didn’t know who he was.”

Paul Manafort

Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman for five months, quickly fell out of his favor after he was convicted and sentenced to nearly four years in prison over financial fraud crimes related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"I didn't know Manafort well,” Trump told Fox News. “He wasn't with the campaign long.”

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman

Trump denied knowing the two Ukrainian-born business partners, who were associates of Giuliani, after they were indicted in connection with alleged schemes to funnel foreign money to U.S. political campaigns.

The problem? Several photos show the men with Trump or members of his family. Parnas posted one photo on Facebook showing himself with Trump at the White House on May 1, describing an “incredible dinner and even better conversation.”

Trump’s explanation: “It's possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody,” he told reporters on the White House South Lawn. But, "I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do.”

Testimony: Giuliani associate Lev Parnas must testify about GOP contributions at center of criminal case

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker in a suit and tie: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8, 2019 in Washington. © Jack Gruber, USA TODAY Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8, 2019 in Washington.

Trump loyalist Whitaker served a year as chief of staff to Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions. But Trump had a frosty relationship with Sessions and fired him last November. He then named Whitaker as acting attorney general.

“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump said just two days after handing Whitaker the promotion. He did, however, know Whitaker’s reputation, he said.

Whitaker lasted in the job just three months and was replaced in February by William Barr, who remains attorney general.

George Conway

a man wearing a suit and tie: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies at the impeachment hearing on Nov. 20, 2019. © Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies at the impeachment hearing on Nov. 20, 2019.

Conway, a conservative attorney who reportedly made Trump’s short list to become U.S. solicitor general, is one of the president’s most persistent critics, frequently Twitter-slamming him with insults like “narcissistic sociopath” and “delusional demagogue.”

Conway also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway, who was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016 and currently serves as one of his senior advisers.

In one Twitter take-down, Trump claimed Conway was jealous of his wife’s success and angry that he didn’t get the job he wanted. “I barely know him,” Trump wrote, “but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

Jeffrey Epstein

Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” in a New York Magazine interview in 2002 and said he’d known the multi-millionaire for 15 years.

“He's a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

But Trump distanced himself from the “terrific guy” in July after Epstein was arrested on charges of sex-trafficking girls as young as 14. Prosecutors said Epstein "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes" in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida.

The "terrific guy" was suddenly not so terrific anymore.

“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him," Trump told reporters at the White House. "...He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I have spoken with him for 15 years. I was not a fan."

Epstein died in his New York jail cell in August. The New York medical examiner ruled his death as suicide by hanging.

Suicide?: Private pathologist questions whether Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide; medical examiner stands by conclusion

Stormy Daniels

Stephanie Clifford, an adult film star who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, says she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Not true, Trump said.

“I had nothing to do with her,” he told The Associated Press on Oct. 16, 2018. “So she can lie and she can do whatever she wants to do.”

Trump initially denied knowing about the hush-money paid to Daniels but later acknowledged repaying his former lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to her that was made as part of a hush agreement.

After a federal judge in California threw out Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against Trump last year, he celebrated on Twitter.

“Horseface,” Trump mocked Daniels, adding: “She knows nothing about me."

Regrets: Stormy Daniels says she regrets body shaming President Trump with graphic description

E. Jean Carroll

a man wearing a suit and tie: E. Jean Carroll says President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a New York department store in the mid-1990s. Trump says it never happened and denies even knowing Carroll. © Craig Ruttle, AP E. Jean Carroll says President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a New York department store in the mid-1990s. Trump says it never happened and denies even knowing Carroll.

The longtime advice columnist accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City in the mid-1990s.

Carroll went public with the allegation against Trump in June before the release of her book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal," which contains a description of the alleged assault.

“She’s not my type,” Trump shot back, denying they’d ever met.

But a photo shows them speaking at a party in the 1980s.

Accuser hits back: Columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Trump raped her, sues the president for defamation

Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I don't know him': The many times Donald Trump's acquaintances suddenly became strangers

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