I’ve gotten solicitations from Move On.org in the last couple of days branding the 47 Republican Senators who signed the Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran as “traitors.” The legal argument is that these 47 violated the “Logan Act,” enacted in 1799 and, which among other things, forbids “unauthorized” citizens from negotiating with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States. The Act was passed following the unauthorized negotiations between George Logan, a Pennsylvania Legislator, physician and farmer, and the Republic of France in 1798. Logan was apparently opposed to a treaty with Britain which had been negotiated by John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, in 1794. Several years later Logan undertook a secret trip to France to try to undermine the treaty, in response to which the Federalist Congress passed the act bearing his name. The Logan Act says this, in pertinent part:
§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments. Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Now, I like Move On.org and these 47 Senators are idiots, but they’re not traitors. Let’s all get a grip here. First, of all, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act since it’s enactment. That would be 217 years, and nary a prosecution. The last time anyone threatened to prosecute someone under the Logan Act was when Ronald Reagan threatened to prosecute then-Presidential Candidate Jesse Jackson for traveling to Cuba and Nicaragua in 1984 and returning with several Cuban political prisoners seeking asylum in the United States. In addition, because the language is so broad in scope and appears to encompass almost every communication between a U.S. citizen and a foreign government considered an attempt to influence negotiations, legal scholars have concluded that the act is probably unconstitutional. Since no one has been prosecuted under it, the issue has never come up.
This was a political stunt on the part of the 47 Republican Senators. It was a stupid political stunt. But it wasn’t traitorous and it’s not something for which they should be prosecuted. It’s just more of the idiotic, baseless, immature, internecine political warfare that is currently taking place in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” — as the U.S. Senate likes to pretend that it is — and all over Congress, led of course, by the government-hating Tea Party Republicans.
I’ve got some advice for them: if you hate government so much, don’t become a part of it. Because, seriously guys, you aren’t helping at all.