Republican Senators Violate the Logan Act

Republican Senators Violate the Logan Act March 10, 2015

If you thought the House Republicans were being crass in trying to undermine America’s foreign policy by inviting Netenyahu to speak to Congress, the Senate Republicans just went a huge step further and issued an open letter to the government of Iran explained trying to undermine the ongoing negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Arms-control advocates and supporters of the negotiations argue that the next president and the next Congress will have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal — — which is reportedly near done — especially if it is working reasonably well.

Many inside the Republican caucus, however, hope that by pointing out the long-term fragility of a deal with no congressional approval — something Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also noted — the Iranian regime might be convinced to think twice. “Iran’s ayatollahs need to know before agreeing to any nuclear deal that … any unilateral executive agreement is one they accept at their own peril,” Cotton told me.

The difference between inviting Netenyahu and this letter are important. Inviting Netenyahu to speak was primarily an act to influence public opinion in the United States (and in Israel, I suspect). But writing a letter to a foreign government is, in my view, a pretty clear violation of the Logan Act. That act says:

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.

It is the president who conducts foreign policy. The Senate’s role is advice and consent, they are not empowered to negotiate with a foreign government on behalf of the country. And if Democratic legislators did this, you know damn well the Republicans would literally be accusing them of treason. I’m certainly no big fan of executive power, but this is not an expansion of executive power, it is precisely what the Constitution intended and the Senate Republicans are explicitly violating the separation of powers and the Logan Act by trying to undermine the executive’s conduct of foreign policy.

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