The most important national story in the past week was doubtless the damage to Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions resulting not merely from her use of a private email account that may have jeopardized national security but also from her disastrous performance at a news conference that she hoped would have put the matter to rest.
However, that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to turn our attention to the growing uproar over the letter that 47 Republican Senators sent to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini concerning the need for Senate approval of any agreement between the US and Iran over the future of Iran's nuclear program.
The reason I picked this topic is that a remarkably high number of my Facebook friends — most of whom are thoughtful, principled conservatives — have condemned the letter. One wrote: "The Republicans who have taken it upon themselves to go directly to heads of foreign counties and deride the President of the United States is irresponsible." And the NBC Nightly News went so far as to promote an online petition calling for charges to be filed against the 47 senators for committing treason by violating the Logan Act. Over 200,000 have signed the petition so far.
This is hysteria, based upon ignorance, so let's look at the facts and become educated.
First, the letter did not contain anything remotely close to negotiation. The Constitution grants to the President the following power regarding agreements with foreign nations: "He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." So the President, or his designees, can make a treaty, which means come to agreement, or negotiate, to which the Senate in turn provides advice and consent — without which the treaty is not binding.
The Senators' letter clearly stays out of the negotiating process. All that it does is to inform the Ayatollah of the Constitutional limits of the President's power in negotiation. Its opening sentence clearly states: (quote) "It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system." In other words, the Senators are clearly saying that they're observing the negations, not participating in them. The final sentence in the letter is similarly clear, (quote): "We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as negotiations progress." That's clearly taking a hands-off approach to the negotiations themselves.
The Logan Act, which goes all the way back to 1799, is intended to prevent unauthorized citizens of the united States from negotiating with foreign governments. In 1975, Senators George McGovern and John Sparkman traveled to Cuba and met with officials of the Castro government, and in 2007, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad. Those visits came a lot closer to being negotiations than this letter, and were highly controversial at the time, yet no charges were ever brought. The US Department of State's website clearly states that the clear intent of the Logan Act is to (quote) "prohibit unauthorized persons from intervening in disputes between the United States and foreign governments.
Nothing in [the 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."
Some well-meaning defenders of President Obama may well disagree with the wisdom and symbolism of the senators' letter — but no one in good conscience can say that it amounts to treason. And for NBC News to suggest that there is any merit whatsoever to an online petition calling for the senators to be charged with violating the Logan Act is worse than merely ignorant — it is malicious and shameful.