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1 in 4 Americans say Trump acted illegally with Russia

Staff Writer | August 10, 2017
Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults believe Donald Trump acted illegally in his campaign's alleged involvement with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Donald Trump
America   Gallup poll
37% say he acted unethically but not illegally and 35% say he did nothing wrong.

From a historical perspective, Americans' belief that Trump is culpable is on the high end of reactions to several past presidential controversies.

However, it is on par with two matters involving former President Bill Clinton.

The Trump data are based on an Aug. 2-6 Gallup poll, which employed the same "illegal/unethical/nothing seriously wrong" format used to ask about prior presidential controversies dating back to the 1990s.

Some of these matters were protracted political storms, while others were only in the news for a brief time.

For the most part, Americans have tended to say the president did not act illegally, although in almost every case a majority perceived the president's actions to be either illegal or unethical.

At most, between 24% and 29% of Americans believed presidents broke the law. In addition to the 25% who currently say Trump acted illegally in the Russia matter, 29% said in 1998 that Bill Clinton acted illegally in the Whitewater real estate deal that took place during his years of public service in Arkansas.

Also in 1998, 24% said Clinton broke the law concerning matters covered in the Kenneth Starr investigation, which included the Whitewater deal but later was expanded to Clinton's having an affair with a White House intern and lying about it under oath.

Although similar percentages of Americans thought Clinton did something illegal in the Whitewater and Lewinsky matters as think Trump did with regard to Russia, more thought Clinton acted unethically. One in three Americans say Trump did nothing wrong, which also ranks among the higher readings in Gallup's trend.

Fewer than one in five Americans thought Clinton acted illegally in three other matters that prompted calls of wrongdoing. This includes his end-of-administration pardons in 2001, 1996 fundraising activities, and allowing China to acquire sensitive missile technology, allegedly in exchange for campaign contributions.

President George W. Bush also had his share of controversies, but only one - involving national security leaks - resulted in more than 20% of Americans believing the president's actions were criminal.

Specifically, 21% in 2006 thought Bush had acted illegally when intelligence information was leaked to reporters. Former staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby was jailed for lying about revealing the information.

Notably, 31% of Americans believed in 1998 that Hillary Clinton - Trump's rival in the 2016 presidential election - acted illegally in the Whitewater matter.