The latest horror to emerge out of Trumpland this week, the prospect that President Donald Trump — while speaking about the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn — told then-director James Comey in a private Oval Office meeting in February, "I hope you can let this go," and that Mr. Comey wrote down a complete description of that awkward encounter in what is now known as the "Comey memo," raises an obvious question: When exactly do Republicans reach the breaking point and put the country's welfare ahead of party politics?
It was encouraging to learn that House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz wants copies of the memo, which was first revealed by The New York Times on Tuesday, and is willing to use subpoena power to get it, if necessary, as well as to hear the concerns raised by the usual handful of GOP mavericks like Sen. John "We've seen this movie before. It's reaching Watergate size and scale" McCain. But the vast majority of Republicans in Congress have remained remarkably quiet about the Comey memo and the possibility that Mr. Trump sought to derail a criminal investigation.
While it's understandable that many have resisted using the "I" word, given that Democrats have been a little too quick to invoke it (Mr. Comey having not yet been given the opportunity to testify about his side of the story), one might at least expect a certain curiosity, if not outright concern that something very, very wrong is happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — whether that justifies impeachment or not. And that concern might have been expressed much earlier, given the curious circumstances of Mr. Comey's firing or the unplanned release of highly classified material to top Russian officials — and that's just last week's tally of executive branch chaos.
So what's been the official line from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan? That they'd like to see less "drama" coming from the White House (Senator McConnell) or a noncommital "We need the facts" (Speaker Ryan who said Wednesday he doesn't want anyone jumping to conclusions about the incident, which has already been denied by the White House for what little that's worth). We agree with both points, of course, but they don't go nearly far enough. It would not hurt to at least acknowledge that the allegations currently on the table could amount to criminal behavior and an obstruction of justice charge.
Why? Because far too many within the GOP have made it clear to date that they perceive President Trump's most reprehensible actions — even the latest outrages — as no worse than a distraction. Leadership is far more interested in fixing White House "leaks" or crafting a more effective "message" then they are in actually challenging the president to adhere to the law of the land. They may see problems with the intelligence agencies, with the press or with critics on the other side of the aisle whom they regard as too critical of the president's misdeeds, but can they not manage at least to demand that President Trump stop bullying top law enforcement or adhere to national security protocols? Or perhaps they might challenge him on another issue allegedly raised in the Comey memo and ask him to respect the 1st Amendment and not seek to prosecute journalists for publishing leaked material.
Posterity will not look kindly on politicians who sat on their hands when duty called. Last month, Marylanders eulogized Lawrence Hogan Sr., the former congressman, Prince George's County executive and father of the current governor who died at age 88. And what was the first thought that came to many minds? That then-Representative Hogan stood up in 1974 as the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to support all three articles on impeachment against President Richard Nixon. "No man, not even president of the United States, is above the law," the late congressman once said. At his funeral, Mr. Hogan was remembered as a hero.
One can only imagine the hue and cry if Hillary Clinton had been elected and taken the exact same actions as Mr. Trump has to date. If Mr. Chaffetz, who has indicated he will not be running for another term in 2018, will pursue the Trump White House with just half the vigor he applied to his vainglorious inquiry into the management of former Secretary of State Clinton's email server, there may yet be an opportunity for redemption.