The Federal statutes known as the Logan Act have been a hot topic in the mainstream news, with many figures accusing each other of committing felonious acts. Recently, Lt. General Michael Flynn was accused by many for urging the Russian government not to retaliate against American sanctions; at a White House press availability, President Trump claimed that “John Kerry violated the Logan Act. He’s talking to Iran and has had many meetings and many phone calls and he’s telling them what to do. That is total violation of the Logan Act.”
The president was right in part — Kerry, along with many other former Obama officials, have had correspondence with Iranian officials to aide Iran. These officials went so far as to tell the Daily Beast that this correspondence was “normal.” According to the Daily Beast, “a small group of former Obama administration officials reached out to their contacts in the Iranian government, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif… Conversations between former Obama officials and Iranian government officials have been ongoing since November 2016.”
These former Obama Officials had in fact reached out to foreign governments and were open about this contact. They had always denied violating the Logan Act, and were never charged for doing so.
What is the Logan Act?
The Logan Act itself is codified in 18 U.S.C. §?953. The legislation states that a citizen who commences in correspondence, whether it be directly or indirectly, with any foreign government, agent, or officer for the sole purpose of influencing their actions in disputes with the United States — specifically to defeat the U.S. — can possibly be sentenced with up to three years in Federal prison upon conviction.
The officials were, in fact, private citizens, and they were “without authority of the United States” due to being discharged from office. Obama’s former agents did, in fact, “carr[y] on any correspondence or intercourse” with an “officer or agent” of the Iranian government. Their conversations were “with intent to influence the measures or conduct of” Iran “in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, [and] to defeat the measures of the United States.” Under these conditions, this would be a prima facie violation of the Logan Act. It is very unlikely, though, that they will be convicted, or even charged, since, as History Today finds, it has been over 150 years since the last indictment of the charge, and no one has ever been convicted of it.
Where Does Treason Come In?
The word ‘treason’ has also been used to describe the acts of these officials, yet no one considers its legal meaning. It is the only crime that the U.S. Constitution defines, and its definition is very simple — treason “consist[s] only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort,” according to Article III, Section 3. This is very similar to the Logan Act, where citizens cannot help declare war against the United States, or help enemies of the States in defeating them. The term ‘enemy’ in this context, however, can be very unclear. This is where we can look to a separate statute — 50 U.S.C. § 2204(2) — which defines the term as “any country, government, group, or person that has been engaged in hostilities, whether or not lawfully authorized, with the United States.” With the history of Iranian aggression against the United States, Iran could easily be considered an enemy of the United States, allowing a charge of treason to apply.
Will They Be Charged?
The question remains of whether these officials could be charged and convicted of treason and a violation of the Logan Act. The answer, though, is split down the middle. These officials, upon directly conversing with foreign officials, absent authorization, to influence their actions with regard to tensions between Iran and the United States, could be charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §?953. Further, by these conversations aiding an enemy in order to defeat the United States in military action, they could be charged with treason.
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