Republicans realising jig is almost up - and it's time to get on right side of history
The degree to which Republicans have continued to ignore or excuse US President Donald Trump's reckless behaviour, which now can be seen as endangering national security, has not surprised politics-watchers.
If Republicans were willing to tolerate his call for Russian hacking, his defence of vile dictators, his abuse of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the 'Access Hollywood' tape, his assaults on the intelligence community, his (thankfully) inept attempts to ram through a Muslim ban, his attacks on judges, his hiring as national security adviser of Michael Flynn without vetting him, and his firing of the FBI director, why should blurting out secrets reportedly entrusted to the US by Israel to Russian officials move them over the edge?
Then came the news that former FBI director James Comey had documentation of his meeting with Mr Trump, in which Mr Trump asked him to step back from the investigation of Mr Flynn. ("I hope you can let this go,'' Mr Trump said.) That shook loose Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who told the press: "I've asked Comey to come before the Judiciary Committee to tell his side of the story. I think it would be good for him if he did. It would be good for the country."
Even Republican House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, who has been less than enthusiastic in pursuing potential wrongdoing in this administration, shot off a letter to the FBI demanding all Mr Comey memos documenting conversations with the president.
Might the presentation of a credible witness with contemporaneous notes break the logjam? We can only hope. Until now, there have been few exceptions to the rule of partisan loyalty.
We did see freshman Representative Mike Gallagher, who has been tweeting up a storm, calling for a full investigation of Mr Comey's firing and now the scandal reportedly involving Israeli intelligence given to Russia. "Our allies and partners must have the utmost confidence that sensitive information they share with us will not be disclosed," he tweeted. He continued: "Regardless of what was shared in the meeting, it's dangerous to believe that Russia can be a reliable counterterrorism partner."
Last week he told a local TV interviewer: "I think the timing of the firing is indeed suspicious. It does raise a lot of questions and I think, like most American and most Wisconsinites, I just want the truth." Really, if a freshman can refuse to spin for the White House, why can't lawmakers with years of seniority in no danger of losing their seats?
There was also Representative Barbara Comstock, who voted against the dog's-breakfast health-care bill, who put out a statement when Mr Comey was fired, which read in part: "I can't defend or explain tonight's actions or timing of the firing of FBI director James Comey. The FBI investigation into the Russian impact on the 2016 election must continue. There must be an independent investigation that the American people can trust."
On the Russia debacle she said: "Once again we are faced with inexplicable stories coming from the White House that are highly troubling. We need to have immediate classified briefings on what occurred at this meeting so that Congress can at least know as much as Russian leaders and know the impact on our national security, our allies, and our men and women protecting our country." Oh, she's just trying to save her swing seat, you say? What is the excuse, then, for silence from safe members?
Late on Monday, before news of the Comey memo surfaced, Senator John McCain weighed in as well. "The reports that the president shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials are deeply disturbing. Reports that this information was provided by a US ally and shared without its knowledge send a troubling signal to America's allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future. I continue to believe that we need a select congressional committee to fully investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Sanctions - not intelligence-sharing - should be our course of action." Then, in a telling sign the temperature was going up, he said at a GOP dinner on Tuesday night that the Mr Trump situation has reached "Watergate size and scale".
Whether Mr Comey's documentation proves to be the tipping point for Republicans is unclear. The 'Washington Post' reports that Mr Comey's memo and Mr Trump's disclosure of classified information to the Russians are "forcing a change in everyone's calculations". Republicans will begin to realise that their agenda is going nowhere and that their political survival depends on Mr Trump's political demise. Now, we've seen the Republicans fall into line behind Mr Trump too many times to expect swift, definitive action. But more Republicans, I suspect, will figure out that they have a better chance of political survival if they follow Graham, Gallagher, Comstock and McCain (and belatedly, Chaffetz).
They might consider that it was the GOP leaders who went to tell Richard Nixon in 1974 that the jig was up, not the dead-enders, who went down in history as patriots. (© Washington Post syndication)