Dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran’s continued march toward acquiring nuclear weapons, 47 Republican Senators signed an open letter that was sent to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Arkansas freshman Sen. Tom Cotton authored the letter, which was signed by all but seven Senate Republicans.
This action has been termed “unprecedented,” and has brought forth the wrath of Democrats in Congress and the administration. Vice President Joe Biden, for example, declared that "In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country … that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”
Secretary of State John Kerry expressed similar sentiments: “This letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy,” and went a step further by saying that in his 29 years in the Senate he had “never heard of or even heard of being proposed anything comparable to this.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the ayatollahs. We should always have robust debate about foreign policy, but it's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States.”
Other criticisms charged Republicans with trying to undercut the president by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without first consulting the White House, and then by sending this letter to subvert an agreement that would avoid war, as MSNBC’s Mika Brzenzinski charged on the Morning Joe program. And the pièce de résistance: the New York Daily News cover calling the Republican letter signers “traitors.”
Some law professors, pundits and news media charge that the Republican senators have committed treason by violating the Logan Act of 1799, which states: "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."
And now for the rest of the story.
Predictably, there is far more heat than warranted here, Treason? No. Traitors? No. Gross amounts of hyperbole? Absolutely! Deliberate deception! Of course.
The Logan Act is not a factor here because, first, many legal authorities believe the Act is constitutional, as it infringes on the free speech guaranteed citizens by the U.S. Constitution, but also because the senators represent one of two houses of a co-equal branch of government, and therefore acted with the authority of their position, which also allows them to take a part in agreements with other nations.
Most important, however, is that despite the breathless overstatements by critics of the letter-writers, this action is not at all unprecedented, and in fact some of the loudest critics have themselves indulged in similar acts.
Take Secretary of State John Kerry, for instance. In 1971 during negotiations by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger trying to reach an end to the Vietnam War, then-Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., as leader of the anti-war group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, travelled to Paris to meet face-to-face with the North Vietnamese delegation, which was at the time an enemy combatant nation.
In 2007 then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., met fact-to-face with Bashar al-Assad while President George W. Bush was in negotiations with the Syrian leader.
Another Speaker, Jim Wright, D-Tex., talked face-to-face with Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in 1987.
Senator James Abourezk, D-S.D., secretly met with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat in 1973.
In 2006 Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Arlen Spector R-Pa., (who soon after became a Democrat) traveled to Damascus when the policy of the Bush administration was to isolate the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The Left has a problem remembering these inconvenient facts, which are probably contained in emails at the State Department or the IRS.
Furthermore, the letter was an open letter, not a private communication and presented facts about our constitutional system the Iranians likely did not know, not a negotiation.
The letter explained that any agreement between President Obama and the Iranian leaders binds only President Obama; future presidents will not be bound by it. Only treaties ratified by the Senate bind the U.S. That is a significant point.
Further, the negotiations may well involve the president unilaterally undoing sanctions against Iran passed by the Congress. That is a no-no; he does not have authority to do that.
It is certainly fair to criticize the fact that the message was presented in a letter addressed to Iranian leaders, instead of, say, being run as an op-ed in one or more national newspapers. However, that is about the worst aspect of this molehill called Mount Treason.