Why didn’t they say something sooner?

The dedicated and principled public servants who are now telling the nation about President Trump’s gross failings and impeachable crimes are doing the right thing, finally. But the truth is that they should have come forward long ago, rather than wait for a crisis or a subpoena to compel them to speak.

“I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” former Navy secretary Richard V. Spencer wrote Sunday in a letter acknowledging his dismissal. One wonders when they ever did share such an understanding. Thanks to Trump, we are now a nation that gives special treatment to criminal soldiers.

Spencer was ousted because he could not “in good conscience obey an order” from Trump to halt disciplinary proceedings against a Navy SEAL who had been convicted of posing for a photo with the corpse of an enemy combatant. I commend Spencer for doing the right thing, but I can’t look past the fact that he had served in his post for more than two years. Was this really his first inkling that Trump lacked a moral center? Was it his first hint that Trump was unfit to be commander in chief? If not, why did he remain silent?

Fear-driven Republicans have been enablers of President Trump with their silence, argues Post columnist George F. Will. (The Washington Post)

Likewise, I offer the highest praise to former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, whose steely-eyed testimony last Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee presented a riveting narrative of Trump’s Ukraine bribery scheme. She also gave us the perfect phrase to describe what Trump’s little helpers were trying to carry out: a “domestic political errand” that worked against U.S. foreign policy goals.

But Hill had heard her boss, then-national security adviser John Bolton, describe the Ukraine maneuverings as a “drug deal” that he wanted no part of. She understood that Trump and his minions were trying to coerce Ukraine into manufacturing dirt on Trump’s potential opponent in the election, Joe Biden. She had told Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that the whole enterprise was going to “blow up.” Why did she wait to be subpoenaed? Why didn’t she raise the alarm?

I could ask the same questions about the other witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry. I applaud their willingness to appear despite orders from the Trump administration not to do so. I appreciate their care in keeping records of the events and conversations they describe. I salute their candor.

But I wonder why it took a still-anonymous whistleblower to launch the process of holding Trump accountable. I wonder why it took a notorious war-crimes case to focus attention on Trump’s disregard for the rule of law. I wonder why it took so long for administration insiders to begin telling us what they know.

And I wonder about all of those who have yet to speak. I mean Bolton, for one. We know from the testimony of Hill and others that he was appalled at Trump’s Ukraine dealings. We know from news reports that he has signed a big-money book deal, presumably a tell-all account of his time in the Trump White House. How can he, in conscience, refuse to share whatever pertinent information he has with the impeachment inquiry? Does he really want his legacy to be that he cared more about selling books and raking in big speaking fees than about serving the nation?

There is no shortage of one-time administration officials who hint darkly at the danger Trump poses to our national security — former chief of staff John F. Kelly, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former defense secretary Jim Mattis — yet refuse to speak plainly. Are they afraid of Trump, for some reason? Do they feel some sense of loyalty to a man who obviously has no loyalty to them?

Literally from Day One, when then-press secretary Sean Spicer was sent out to lie about the inaugural crowd size, working for the Trump administration has been a moral slippery slope. I applaud the desire of officials to serve their country, and I believe I understand how they could rationalize staying on as Trump repeatedly betrayed American values. Without them, perhaps, the betrayals would have been worse.

But their duty was always to the Constitution, not to Donald Trump. Whether present or former officials like it, Trump is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The stakes for our democracy could not be higher.

Anyone with relevant information about Trump’s conduct in office no longer has the option to remain silent. Refusing to testify or speak publicly may not violate any law. But history, I am quite sure, will take a much harsher view.

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