October 14, 2019

President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which has given Turkey an opening to invade and launch an offensive against Kurdish forces in the region, has garnered a lot of criticism. Those critics include some members of the U.S. Special Forces who have worked closely with Kurdish soldiers over the years in a joint fight against the Islamic State.

Now, as the U.S. withdraws, Kurdish forces have struck an agreement with the Syrian government in the hopes of staving off Turkish forces. Here are three recent quotes from U.S. troops who are struggling to understand how things wound up the way they did.

1. "It's a stain on the American conscience," said one Army officer speaking on the condition of anonymity told The New York Times, referring to the U.S.'s Kurdish allies. "They trusted us and we broke that trust."

2. One U.S. Special Forces soldier criticized Trump directly in a phone call with Fox News last week.

3. "I'm ashamed," another officer told the Times. The officer echoed retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, who told CNN "There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies."

Read more at The New York Times and Mediaite. Tim O'Donnell

10:09 a.m.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland just explicitly confirmed a quid pro quo with Ukraine and pointed the finger at President Trump during a stunning opening statement in the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland testified in the fourth day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into Trump, which is focusing on whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations that might benefit him politically, including by withholding military aid and linking a White House meeting Ukraine's president wanted with the resumption of the aid.

"Was there a 'quid pro quo?'" Sondland said in his statement. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

Sondland placed blame on Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for requesting a "quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky" but also said Trump directed him to work with Giuliani and that Giuliani, in demanding Ukraine's president announce investigations involving former Vice President Joe Biden's son and the 2016 election, "was expressing the desires of the president of the United States."

Sondland additionally says that "everyone was in the loop," citing emails showing that "leadership of State, NSC, and the White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts" from May through September, when the aid was released. Brendan Morrow

9:54 a.m.

Depending on how things unfold, President Trump likely stands to lose the most as a result of Wednesday's impeachment inquiry testimony from Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, but it doesn't look like Vice President Mike Pence will be let off the hook, either.

In his prepared opening statement, Sondland said he told Pence before a September meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw, Poland, that he was concerned that a delay in military aid to Kyiv "had become tied to the issue of investigations." During the meeting, Pence apparently told Zelensky he would address the aid with Trump.

Sondland didn't say if he explicitly mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, or any other domestic political rivals of Trump as subjects of the investigation when communicating with Pence about the potential quid pro quo, but either way, it adds to the growing speculation about how much Pence may have known throughout the saga. Tim O'Donnell

9:25 a.m.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key witness in the ongoing impeachment inquiry, is expected to explicitly confirm on Wednesday that efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into the Bidens was "a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit" with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In his prepared remarks, Sondland also points his finger at the Oval Office, noting that Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Rudy Giuliani, was working in accordance with "the desires of the president of the United States."

In his statement, Sondland adds that "everyone was in the loop. It was no secret." While Sondland has long been considered a close ally of Trump's, having been awarded his cushy diplomatic post after making a generous donation to the president's inauguration back in 2016, he will speak bluntly at the hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, saying: "The White House meeting and security assistance should have proceeded without pre-conditions of any kind."

Sondland additionally expressed frustration with Trump directing his diplomats in Ukraine to work with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into opening a politically-motivated investigation. "Let me say again: We weren't happy with the president's directive to talk with Rudy," Sondland is prepared to say. "We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters."

Sondland also makes clear that his own cooperation with Giuliani on Ukraine was at "the express direction of the president of the United States ... simply put, we played the hand we were dealt." Read Sondland's full prepared statement here. Jeva Lange

9:19 a.m.

Well, that wasn't the start to the day the White House was hoping for.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was temporarily brought onto the White House team to deliver "proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise," per an administration official, stumbled when it came to that very messaging during a CBS interview Wednesday before a major public impeachment hearing.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is testifying before Congress, but when Bondi was asked about him she flubbed his title, referring to him as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.

It's understandable to a point — there sure are a lot of different titles floating around in the impeachment inquiry, and most of them are related to Ukraine in some way. But, as the kids like to say, Bondi had one job. As Politico's Eugene Daniels noted, the distinction between the two positions "is why people are wondering why he was so involved in dealings with Ukraine." Watch the full clip below. Tim O'Donnell

8:56 a.m.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland made Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of a Ukraine pressure campaign, The New York Times reports.

Sondland is set to testify Wednesday and face further questions in the impeachment inquiry about an effort to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that might benefit President Trump politically, including involving former Vice President Joe Biden.

Pompeo, according to the report, was informed by Sondland in mid-August "about a draft statement" he and another diplomat had worked on with Ukrainians "that they hoped would persuade Mr. Trump to grant Ukraine's new president the Oval Office meeting he was seeking." At the time, Sondland was negotiating a statement that would have Ukraine committing to an investigation of Burisma, the gas company where Biden's son served on the board, and the 2016 election.

Additionally, the Times reports Sondland discussed the idea with Pompeo of pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "to pledge during a planned meeting with Mr. Trump in Warsaw that he would take the steps being sought by Mr. Trump as a way to break the logjam in relations between the two countries."

Although the Times notes it's "not clear how specific" Sondland was with Pompeo about "what was being asked of the Ukrainians," Pompeo by this point would have already heard Trump's July phone call with Zelensky, during which the president makes clear that he wants the country to conduct investigations into Biden and the 2016 election.

This report is breaking just as Sondland's testimony before Congress is about to get underway. Brendan Morrow

8:17 a.m.

Wednesday is Gordon Sondland's time in the barrel. President Trump's ambassador to the European Union is the sole witness in Wednesday morning's House impeachment hearings, and there is a lot at stake — for Trump, for Democrats, and for Sondland, who faces legal jeopardy if he lies to Congress. Sondland already revised his sworn Oct. 17 deposition once, acknowledging "I now recall" telling a Ukraine presidential adviser Sept. 1 that U.S. military aid was tied to Ukraine announcing specific investigtations sought by Trump.

"The evidence gathered to date points to Sondland as the witness who, more than any other, could tie President Trump directly to the effort to persuade Ukraine to launch investigations that might benefit him politically," The Washington Post notes. On Wednesday, Sondland "could solidify the case against Trump. ... Or he could stand by his statements and face withering questioning from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee over inconsistencies between his testimony and that of a growing number of witnesses."

"Republicans — especially in the White House — are exceedingly uncomfortable with Sondland, and unsure what he will say," Politico reports. Their strategy Wednesday will be to "try to paint Sondland as a political hack who was carrying out what he thought Trump wanted, but not what the president told him directly," believing that if "they can inject enough doubt about Sondland’s credibility, they can undermine some of the larger arguments about the substance." Democrats, Politico says, hope to "show that Sondland was, in fact, the agent Trump was using to carry out his 'shadow foreign policy,'" but they have their doubts about his value as a witness, too.

Both sides have reason for concern, but especially Republicans, Michael Smerconish said on CNN Wednesday morning. Watch below. Peter Weber

7:56 a.m.

The fourth and potentially most significant day of public impeachment hearings is about to begin.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will testify before Congress on Wednesday as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump, which focuses on whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to open investigations that might benefit him politically, including by withholding military aid.

Earlier this month, Sondland revised his earlier closed-door testimony to admit he told Ukraine aid to the country that was being held up would likely not be released "until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," The New York Times reports. As to why Sondland didn't mention this when he originally testified and said that he didn't "recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens," he said he had since had his recollection "refreshed."

Of all the witnesses who have testified in the public impeachment hearings so far, The New York Times reports Sondland is the one who people close to Trump are most concerned about, as they have expressed "worry that he interacted directly with the president about Ukraine and that they do not know what he will say." The Times notes Sondland is also likely to face questions about why he didn't disclose a phone call he had with Trump about "the investigations" on July 26, which was first revealed during the public testimony of William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine.

The Sondland hearing is scheduled to get underway at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Also set to testify on Wednesday are Pentagon official Laura Cooper and State Department official David Hale. The impeachment hearing can be streamed below via PBS. Brendan Morrow

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