Increasing tensions with Moscow over U.S. strikes on Syria have complicated the Democrats' argument that President Trump is too close to Russia, even as congressional committees continue to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign.
None of this is likely to lessen the vigor with which Democrats pursue the Russia probe. One Democratic congressional aide said the military response to the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, while welcome, "changes nothing" when it comes to Trump and the ongoing investigations.
"The evidence [on Russia and the election] still leads wherever it leads," the aide said.
Nevertheless, the Tomahawk missile attack against an actual Russian client, Syrian President Bashar Assad, launched with bipartisan support, cannot help but have at least some effect on public perceptions about Trump's alleged coziness with Moscow.
The use of force has been accompanied by escalating rhetoric from the Trump administration that is critical of Russia.
"I think that if you look at the countries that are with us, it speaks pretty loudly the number of countries that have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this president," said press secretary Sean Spicer at the White House press briefing Monday. "Russia… stands with Syria, North Korea and Iran."
Spicer added, "I think when you contrast the two groups of country sets, it's pretty clear that we're on the right side of this issue."
He returned to a variation of this line later in the briefing. "I mean, you got Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia on one side of this," Spicer said. "That's a pretty small group."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was himself criticized for being too close to Russia during his confirmation hearings, has been even more scathing.
"Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent," he said of Syria's use of chemical weapons in an off-camera briefing with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Asked Saturday about Russia's condemnation of the U.S. strikes, Tillerson repeated his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.
"I'm disappointed in that response from the Russians because it indicates their continued support for the Assad regime and, in particular, their continued support for a regime that carries out these type of horrendous attacks on their own people," he told reporters. "So I find it very disappointing, but, sadly, I have to tell you, not all that surprising."
Putin will not meet with Tillerson when the former Russian Order of Friendship recipient travels to Moscow on behalf of the U.S. government.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has also taken a hard line against Russia on Syria.
"Let's think about the possible reasons for Russia's failure," Haley told the UN Security Council. "It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria. It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons. Or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools, telling them that there are no chemical weapons, all the while stockpiling them on their bases."
Spicer said Monday that reporters often leave out a crucial qualifier when writing about Trump's desire to work with Putin and improve relations with Russia.
"But he's also said — and I think sometimes people cut off part of the quote, which is if we can't work with them, then, okay," the White House press secretary said of the president and Russia.
"I love to negotiate things," Trump said in a February press conference. "I do it really well and all that stuff. But it's possible I won't be able to get along with Putin."
"It certainly puts the lie to any suggestion that somehow President Trump is Vladimir Putin's patsy," Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., told Fox News Monday evening.
Democrats aren't necessarily convinced. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., speculated to the same network that the strikes "could be an attempt by the administration to get out from under the cloud of collusion with Russia."
But the Syria strike has at least partially reassured the Republicans most likely to defect from Trump on Russia. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., compared Trump to Ronald Reagan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., compared him to George W. Bush.
Before Trump ordered the attack on Syria, the House Intelligence Committee probe settled into a partisan fight. Democrats made charges of Trump collusion with Russia — panel member Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, went so far as to suggest people could end up in jail — and Republicans focused on leaks and the "unmasking" of Trump transition officials by the Obama administration.
GOP lawmakers were wary, but also critical of the way Democrats were invoking Russia as a reason to reject Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court and other Republican agenda items.
"Democrats are once again playing political games at the expense of the American people and proving that they are not really interested in any type of thoughtful investigation or probe," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Republicans appeared to gain the upper hand in the public perception battle when Susan Rice, national security adviser under President Obama, was reported to be involved.
"White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter," wrote Bloomberg News' Eli Lake earlier this month.
"Once there are absolutely no Russian ties to Trump team, then the Dems are finished," said a former Republican national security official. "And team Obama is guilty of spying on political enemies."
Then the tide seemingly turned again when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was forced to at least temporarily recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Nunes was a Trump ally who had made unmaking a major issue and his recusal reinforced Democratic arguments that Republicans were unwilling to conduct an impartial investigation of the president.
"I can say I don't agree with the chairman's characterization, which is exactly why it's so important you don't share documents with just one person or even two people," ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a CNN interview highlighted by his staff. "They need to be shared with both full committee." He declined to describe the classified documents further.
Syria could change the debate yet again. While a real, live confrontation between Trump and Russia won't affect the substance of the investigation, it will make it harder to mount a political case the president is Putin's friend in the White House.