CBS Poll: Don't Claim Privilege

Most American's don't want White House aides to claim executive privilege when they testify before the Washington grand jury investigating President Clinton, according to a new CBS News poll released Thursday night.

Americans continue to reject presidential claims of executive privilege, just as they did when asked about it during the Nixon and Reagan administrations. By 59 percent to 30 percent, Americans say the Clinton administration should drop its claim of executive privilege. Officials said the claims were made to protect the White House's decision-making process on sensitive issues.

In 1986, during the Iran-Contra investigation, the public also rejected (54 percent to 36 percent) the notion of executive privilege to "protect national security secrets and the White House decision making process."

There are partisan aspects to public opinion on this subject. Democrats are more evenly divided on the claim. Forty-five percent say the President and his aides should claim executive privilege; 42 percent say they should not.

Though "executive privilege" is rejected, the notion of confidentiality for White House discussions receives some support - at least when the conversations involve the president. By 50 percent to 41percent, Americans say the confidentiality of discussions between a President and White House aides is similar to the confidentiality of lawyer-client discussions.

There is less support for confidentiality of discussions between the First Lady and White House aides. Forty-three percent would judge to be similar to those afforded lawyer-client confidentiality; 47 percent would not.

There are sizable partisan differences on these questions. Sixty-two percent of Democrats, compared with only 39 percent of Republicans, accept the similarities between Presidential White House discussions and the lawyer-client relationship.

As seen in nearly all polls conducted in the months since the first accusations of sexual misconduct were made, Bill Clinton continues to have a high approval rating, while the public expresses dismay with the continued investigation of the scandals.

Some examples of this are:

  • 64 percent of those interviewed this week approved of the way he is doing his job as President; 30 percent disapprove of it.

  • By two to one, Americans view the situation as a private matter, not a public one affecting his job as President.

  • 57 percent want independent counsel Kenneth Starr to drop his investigation. By two to one, the public views it as partisan.

Overall opinions of Mr. Clinton do not match the high job performance scores. Forty-four percent have a favorable view of the president, while 35 percent look on him unfavorably. In this poll, women are twice as likely as men to be undecided about whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion about the president.

By 47 percent to 26percent, Americans believe Bill Clnton did have an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. And opinion in this survey - which was conduced mostly before the decision by Judge Susan Webber Wright to throw out Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Mr. Clinton - is harsher than usual on what should happen if Mr. Clinton lied under oath or encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie under oath.

Fifty-two percent say that if those allegations are true, Mr. Clinton should resign or be impeached; 45 percent would be satisfied with an apology or would let the matter drop.

This poll was conducted among a nation-wide random sample of 994 adults interviewed by telephone March 30-April 1, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.