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Most Say White House Leakers Deserve Prosecution

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Following numerous leaks of secret information intended to embarrass President Trump to the news media, most voters think the leakers should be punished.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 58% of Likely U.S. Voters believe those who leak classified information including the contents of private telephone conversations between the president and other foreign leaders should be prosecuted. Twenty-five percent (25%) disagree, while 17% are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Similarly, 59% believe intelligence officials who withhold classified information from the president should be fired or punished in some fashion, while 23% disagree. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some intelligence officials have withheld information from Trump over fears it may be compromised or leaked, but the new head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has denied that story.

Just 30% of voters believe unelected government officials should be free to decide what information they share with the elected chief executive of the United States. Fifty-four percent (54%) don’t think these officials should have that right, while 16% are not sure.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 16 and 19, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Forty-seven (47%) of voters believe America’s intelligence agencies have their own political agenda. Thirty-nine percent (39%) disagree and think they generally perform impartially. Still, most voters give intelligence agencies positive marks for their overall performance.

As is the case with most issues these days, opinions on these questions differ according to a voter's party affiliation. Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans - and 61% of voters not affiliated with either major political party - believe those who leak classified information including the president's private phone conversations with other world leaders should be prosecuted. Only 43% of Democrats agree.

By similar margins, Democrats are far more likely to think it's okay for unelected government officials to withhold classified information from the elected chief executive and are far less supportive of punishing those who do.

Voters under 40 feel more strongly than their elders do that intelligence officials should be free to decide to withhold information from the president. But voters in all age groups are in general agreement when it comes to punishing those who do it and those who leak classified information.

Ninety-one percent (91%) of voters who Strongly Approve of the job the new president is doing think those who leak classified information including the president's phone calls should be prosecuted. Forty-seven percent (47%) of those who Strongly Disapprove of the job Trump is doing disagree.

Following the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after it was discovered he lied about his contacts with Russian officials prior to the election, the Trump administration has been highly critical of the leaking to the media of classified conversations in which Flynn was involved. Most voters think Russia is a likely influence on the new president’s foreign policy but also tend to think critics of Flynn are more interested in scoring political points than in U.S. national security.

Last August following Wikileaks’ release of embarrassing internal Democratic Party e-mails, 55% of Republicans said that the media should publish the contents of the e-mails sent and received by public officials even if those e-mails are obtained illegally, but 68% of Democrats disagreed.

Voters are evenly divided when asked if the U.S. government generally does a good job protecting its secrets.  In 2015, 49% considered the leaking of classified documents to be an act of treason.

In early January, voters were still critical of the news coverage of Trump and said the media is still showing the same bias against him that it displayed during the presidential campaign.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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