Earlier this week, 47 Republican Senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, sent a letter to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” informing them of the process the U.S. Constitution requires when ratifying treaties or, in the words of the Obama administration, “executive agreements.” The letter emphasized that any “congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate” and, if not approved, any agreement would be solely between both countries’ executives. The final sentence of the letter stated, “We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”
Soon after though, liberal outlets and leaders lambasted the Senators, calling the letters “a Logan Act violation” and “treasonous”. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean echoed this by saying the letter “borders on treason”, while Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont labeled it as “outrageous behavior.” Vice President Joe Biden chimed in saying the letter “offends” him. Even now, a petition with nearly 150,000 signatures is calling for charges to be filed against the 47 Senators for violating the Logan act and committing “a treasonous offense”.
In rushing so quickly to judgment, opponents fail to understand several facts. First, treason and violating the Logan Act are two separate legal matters. Here are the two listed within the U.S. Code:
“18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution – Treason: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”
“18 U.S. Code § 953 – Private correspondence with foreign governments (Logan Act): 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. This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.”
Clearly, the letter sent by these Senators in no way fits the definition of treason.
Currently, according to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, no prosecution has ever taken place based on a violation of the Logan Act, although many Democrat leaders have been alleged to have violated it. It also appears that Congress is exempted from the Logan Act, as ruled by the U.S. State Department when asked about the discussions between Cuban officials and Senators Sparkman and McGovern, “The clear intent of this provision [Logan Act] is to prohibit unauthorized persons from intervening in disputes between the United States and foreign governments. Nothing in section 953, however, would appear to restrict members of the Congress from engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties under the Constitution.” There have also been efforts to repeal the Logan Act, including an attempt made by former Senator Ted Kennedy, and “many legal scholars and judges have suggested that the Logan Act is unconstitutional.”
Second, the U.S. Constitution does not provide the President to be the sole arbiter of treaties with foreign governments. Provided in Article 2, Section 2, the President has the power “to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” Obama has the power to negotiate a deal with Iran but not to enact it. Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith asserted in October that “if he wants a deal with Iran (which he clearly does), Obama must strike the deal on his own” and any deal would be “short-term and tenuous”, that is, only lasting the remaining two years of Obama’s term if Congress does not approve. This letter offers no opposition or support towards the ongoing negotiations, but instead, as admitted by Joe Biden, was written as “a constitutional lesson.”
Finally, many media outlets have been stating that these 47 Republican Senators were warning Iran “that any nuclear agreement would only last as long as U.S. President Barack Obama remains in office.” As stated, previously the letter offers no opinion on the actual negotiation process but says “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” (emphasis added). Secretary of State John Kerry disagreed today before a Congressional Committee saying, “[Congress doesn’t] have the right to modify an agreement reached executive to executive between leaders of a country.” However, “through a series of Supreme Court decisions”, Congress does have the power to modify or ignore such agreements through the Plenary Power Doctrine.
Instead of objectively reading the letter and the laws set in place, liberal leadership and the media have become the incarnation of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts by acting in blind fury and calling “off with their heads!” at the slightest disagreement. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ’Off with his head!’ she said, without even looking round.” Liberals are acting in very similar fashion as they are more concerned with defending and preserving Obama’s legacy than protecting the Constitution. The Constitution was designed so that no President could affect our nation’s defenses and foreign relations without the consent of the people’s representatives.