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Robert Longley

Why Pelosi's Trip Did Not Violate Federal Law

By April 7, 2007

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You may read accusations that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi violated a federal law known as the Logan Act when she traveled to Damascus to discuss Middle East diplomacy with Syrian President Bashar Assad. History, however, shows that these accusations will hold no legal status.

The Logan Act, originally enacted in 1799 and amended in 1994, prohibits unauthorized U.S. citizens from interfering in relations between the United States and foreign governments. Despite numerous judicial references to the Act, the Congressional Research Service has discovered no prosecutions under the Logan Act in its more than 200 years of existence. It has, however, served as the basis for several political challenges, not unlike those now being launched against Speaker Pelosi.

In 1975, Senators John Sparkman and George McGovern were accused of violating the Logan Act when they traveled to Cuba and met with Cuban officials. In considering that case, the U.S. Department of State declared:

"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 [Logan Act], 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. In the case of Senators McGovern and Sparkman the executive branch, although it did not in any way encourage the Senators to go to Cuba , was fully informed of the nature and purpose of their visit, and had validated their passports for travel to that country."

The circumstances of Speaker Pelosi's trip to Syria were similar. The Bush administration was well aware of the "nature and purpose" of the proposed trip, and while President Bush discouraged it and is now harshly criticizing it, the executive branch took no action to prevent Pelosi from leaving the country. Indeed, the White House has not mentioned the Logan Act in relationship to Pelosi's trip.

Some other Americans accused of, but never prosecuted for violating the Logan Act include Ross Perot for his efforts to locate U.S. POWs in Southeast Asia and former Speaker of the House Jim Wright for his relations with the Sandinista government. In 1984, Reverend Jessie Jackson's trips to Syria, Cuba and Nicaragua drew accusations of Logan Act violations from President Reagan. And who can forget Jane Fonda's many controversial trips to Southeast Asia in protest of the Vietnam War? Yet, as far as the Congressional Research Service has been able to determine, no American has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act.

Chances are, the attacks being leveled at Speaker Pelosi's trip will end up amounting to little more than, as Liberal Politics Guide Deborah White suggests, a very "premature start to the 2008 presidential race."

The Logan Act (18 U.S.C. § 953) 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, 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.

Also See: The Campaign 2008 Money Race: Glorious or Grotesque? (Liberal Politics)


April 7, 2007 at 8:25 pm
(1) Tim says:

That no one has ever been convected under the Logan Act has no bearing on whether or not Pelosi violated the law. Nor does the fact that the administration was aware of the trip. Further, the only Congressional legislative duty” requiring travel and negotiations with other countries would be regarding commerce — Pelosi’s trip did not have a commerce nexus.

April 7, 2007 at 8:53 pm
(2) usgovinfo says:

Article I, Section 8 enumerates all sorts of duties for Congress that lack any nexus in commerce. Sens. McGovern and Sparkman went to Cuba to talk Castro into letting pitcher Luis Tiant’s parents to come visit him in the U.S. Where was the commerce nexus in that? And the fact that the State Department let Pelosi leave the country, knowing what she planned to do in Syria, has everything to do with successful prosecution under the Logan Act. While Pelosi’s attempts at Middle East diplomacy were ill-advised and potentially damaging, they were not illegal.

April 8, 2007 at 12:57 am
(3) obi opiah says:

But sir you forget that as at the moment we (the United States) are actively engaged in a conflict with Syria by them haboring hezbollah and the like who having been responsible for numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of our troops from Beirut to Baghdad. Pelosi’s visit to Syria deviates from standing U.S foreign policy concerning Syria and she ought to be brought up on charges !

April 8, 2007 at 1:32 am
(4) John Buck says:

Pelosi was asked by the President NOT to go — not just not authorized.

Here are just a couple of Pelosi’s statements after the meeting with Assad.

Clearly violating the Logan Act.

Pelosi — “I explained to President Assad that while President Bush is still nominally the American head-of-state he has been reduced to a largely ceremonial role now that my party controls both houses of congress”

“President Assad agreed we need a new direction in American foreign policy. I felt there was some real bonding going on.”

April 8, 2007 at 7:26 pm
(5) Deborah White says:

John Buck, writes, “Pelosi was asked by the President NOT to go — not just not authorized.”

Speaker Pelosi was BRIEFED for this trip by the Bush Admnistration, as was the Congressional delegation that also met with Assad 4 days before Pelosi’s fact-finding delegation.

That first delegation consisted of 3 Republican House members who also publicly disagree with Bush policy toward Syria, and communicated the same message to Syria as did the Speaker’s group.

This Swift Boating of the Speaker is merely smear politics as usual, Bush style, and wholly inconsistent with the treatment accorded dozens of other Congressional delegations since the Nov 2006 elections.

The Bush administration is terrified of Speaker Pelosi’s substantial record of success, and doing everything possible to smear her and tear her down in the public’s mind.

But it won’t work anymore! The jig is up for Bush and Cheney credibility.

April 11, 2007 at 9:37 pm
(6) elephant says:

Perhaps obi opiah (poster above) is in conflict with Syria. But I am not. Therefore, the U.S., as a whole, is not at conflict with Syria, just a handful of war mongerers are. So, I am greatful to anyone who tries to keep the peace between our nations.

If george won’t do his job, someone has to do it…. Bravo Nancy!

April 13, 2007 at 10:04 am
(7) chase says:

Maybe not a felony, but definitely childish. Going behind President’s back is not cool. Why not take it up with him directly? SUpposedly U.S is a democratic country.

April 30, 2007 at 12:45 pm
(8) billh says:

I understand the positions most of the commenters have taken, but in my opinion just because a felony law has not been adequately enforced does not make it less of a felony or unenforcable. We have the same problem with illegal aliens coming across the border. When a law is on the books, it should be enforced equally, not selectively, but definitely enforced. Pelosi did, in fact, in my opinion, commit a felony under the Logan Act and should be prosecuted in court; the court having the duty to decide guilt or innocence. Ms. Pelosi may well be the Speaker of the House for the US; however, she was not in the US, nor was she in the House, and she is NOT the Speaker of the United States! I am delighted to be in a country where I can still state my opinion for the time being; at the rate the political system is decaying and democracy being diluted and destroyed by a bunch of left wing radicals and organized religious fanatics in this country, I see the handwriting on the wall if this ideology is allowed to continue into a muslim dictatorship in the United States. There is no one in Congress, the Executive, or the Legislative who is qualified to micromanage a police action with fanatic muslims, let alone a war with a country such as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Saudi or Afghanistan! Pelosi is a simple public relations consultant, not a saviour of the United States, and she, as well as the Congress, should leave the job of running the country and the elimination of muslim insurgents to the President and his Generals! I much prefer staging this police action in Iraq to staging it in the US, which is likely to happen if we leave Iraq without taking care of the insurgent problem. President Bush will be gone in 2008, if the country didn’t like his policies, I hope they do a better job of electing the next one; but don’t keep harrassing him during his term if he doesn’t suit you in particular as there are bigger fish to fry! If the conflict follows our soldiers home, I hope you enjoy the insurgents intelligence system, MSNBC, CNN, and the rest of the biased media because it will be a lot more thorough coverage when it begins, and it will have a couple of new toucher – seeing both the good and the bad news and smell-o-vision for maximum reality! Don’t forget to duck.

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