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Trump's Russia saga won't trample his support, but it matters for another reason

  • After the denials, Trump issued a series of tweets on Tuesday morning essentially acknowledging he shared the information.
  • Trump then went on to attack the "leakers" who spoke to the Post and other news organizations.

President Donald Trump's alleged sharing of highly-classified information with Russian officials in the Oval Office is not going to be the story that finally breaks his support from conservative media, Congressional Republicans or his most ardent supporters

But it will add fresh roadblocks to the president's ability to get anything significant done on Capitol Hill this year, including sweeping tax reform and a major roll-back of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

The latest explosion from the White House has already fallen into a familiar narrative. Administration officials late Monday released a flurry of statements denying the blockbuster Washington Post report that Trump disclosed highly-classified intelligence details to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister that could compromise a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

For the most part the denials, especially from National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, were finely parsed. McMaster denied that Trump disclosed specific sources and methods to the Russians. But the Post story never alleged that he did that. It said only that he gave enough information for the Russians to potentially identify the source. The information came from another country that had not given the U.S. permission to share it.

After the denials, Trump issued a series of tweets on Tuesday morning essentially acknowledging he shared the information but claiming, correctly, that it was not illegal for him to do so.

Echoes of Comey termination

The same chaotic story played out with the firing of James Comey as FBI director. White House officials initially said Trump fired Comey on the advice of senior Justice Department officials and not because he was frustrated with the bureau's investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Trump then went on national television with NBC's Lester Holt and blew out all those explanations, saying he had decided to fire Comey regardless of the Justice Department recommendations and did so with the Russia probe in mind.

Now Trump has basically said that yes, he did give sensitive information to the Russians, who are allied with the U.S. against the Islamic State, but very opposed to the United States in Syria and other areas.

Trump then went on to attack the "leakers" who spoke to the Post and other news organizations. And conservative media outlets including Breitbart and Fox News also turned the story into one about leaks rather than the potentially destabilizing and dangerous actions of a president with apparently little regard for the implications of casually sharing closely guarded intelligence secrets.

Where the real fallout lies

Polling is not yet available on how Trump's core supporters will react to the latest Russia news but it is a safe assumption that it will do little to shake their faith in the president and their tendency to dismiss any negative stories as "fake news."

On Capitol Hill there has already been the usual expressions of concern from top lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But barring further revelations, there isn't likely to be anything more than that.

But the latest in a seemingly endless parade of Trump scandals will further erode the president's ability to make progress on major legislative goals. The Comey firing already further emboldened Democrats to try and block Trump at every move. Republicans, already facing a dwindling legislative calendar before the summer recess, can move tax reform only on a partisan basis through the "reconciliation process."

To do that, they need to pass a 2018 budget. One possible way to get that done is to pass a budget as part of legislation to raise the debt limit when they return from vacation in September. But Democrats will now have further ammunition to block any debt limit increase, especially one containing other provisions, that does not create an independent inquiry into allegations of collusion with Russia.

Bank regulations

The same holds true for any major Dodd-Frank rollback. It cannot be accomplished without some Democratic support in the Senate. There is now even less chance of that happening.
There is also the matter of the time and attention that tax reform will require of White House officials and House and Senate Republicans. The more time all those parties spend dealing with self-inflicted White House scandals, the less they can spend on crafting tax legislation with any chance of passing. McConnell alluded to that on Tuesday when he spoke of the need for "less drama" from the White House.

But there is no reason to think the drama emanating from this White House will ever cease. And that means that the big fiscal stimulus that Wall Street wants to see coming out of Washington may wait until 2018, if it ever arrives at all.