Did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (and others) violate that act during a much-publicized, self-authorized trip to Syria? The answer, like the law itself, is simple and straightforward: Yes. Did Nancy Pelosi Violate the 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.

That is the complete text of the Logan Act, passed by the U.S. Congress on January 30, 1799, and in force to this day.

Did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (and others) violate that act during a much-publicized, self-authorized trip to Syria?

The answer, like the law itself, is simple and straightforward:  Yes.

Nancy Pelosi qualifies as "any citizen of the United States," with no exemption as Speaker of the House.

Nancy Pelosi acted "without authority of the United States," which, in matters of foreign policy, resides solely and exclusively in the executive branch of the U.S. Government, meaning the President of the United States and his designees.  The President of the United States specifically disapproved of the Pelosi trip to Syria, asked her not to go and criticized her thereafter.

Nancy Pelosi directly commenced "correspondence or intercourse" with officers and agents of a foreign government.

Nancy Pelosi, by her own statements, intended and attempted to influence the "measures or conduct" of that foreign government.  Those measures and that conduct directly relate to disputes or controversies with the United States (and its allies).

That the measures and conduct of Syria are among the worst of nations is of considerable concern from the standpoint of U.S. foreign policy, but is irrelevant from the standpoint of the Logan Act, which does not grade the behavior of countries or delineate among them for the purposes of its strictures.

That Speaker Pelosi says she said nothing on her trip that differs from the positions of the President is also irrelevant, from the standpoint of the law, and either woefully ignorant or ignorant and spiteful, from the standpoint of international relations. 

The current policy of the U.S., as made by the executive branch, is to isolate Syria.  That may be right; it may be wrong; it may not even matter.  It is not, however, anywhere within Speaker Pelosi's prerogative to tangibly interfere or even interpose herself by meeting directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the purposes of any "diplomacy."

Pelosi's defenders make much of the fact that she is Speaker of the House of Representatives and only behind the Vice President in order of succession to the Presidency.  That may get heads nodding on television talk shows, but falls with a thud against the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, recognizing the "exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations" or "the decision of the executive is conclusive."

(Contrary to the mistaken assertions of some, presidential succession is not specified in the Constitution, but in statutory law made by Congress, subject to change, as it has changed in the past.  No Speaker has ever succeeded to the Presidency.  Even if one ever does, that will never make the legislative branch the executive branch or allow anyone in the legislative branch to adventure past the separation of powers that is one of the cornerstones of our government.)

It is far more pertinent to ask another question regarding Pelosi's role as Speaker of the House.  What does it say to this country that she openly violates a law made by the very legislative body of which she is the putative leader?  If she disagrees with the law, for any reason, it is her job to try to change it, not to violate it, no matter how much she may disagree with the foreign policy positions of a duly-elected President.

The Logan Act may be old and no one ever before prosecuted for violating it.  But it is neither ill-founded nor archaic, particularly in a time of world unrest and significant domestic tension regarding U.S. policy toward that unrest.  The law does not preclude all  legislators' discussions with foreign leaders, such as fact-finding, but only those which have the unauthorized intent to influence those leaders.

As recently as September 2006, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the House issued a memo to all members and officers that cautioned against activities that implicate the Logan Act, albeit intended as a warning to outgoing members.  Similarly, in February 2006, the Congressional Research Service prepared a survey of the Logan Act for Congress.  While neither document is particularly respectful of the law, there should at least be no one in Congress claiming not to understand it (including Speaker Pelosi's Republican fellow travelers).

There is no question that many Americans and many in Congress disagree strenuously with foreign policy positions of the Bush Administration.  Any and all, including Speaker Pelosi, may say so, loudly and often, in Congress, in the public square.  But none of us, including Speaker Pelosi, has the right to conduct any foreign policy, without specific authorization of the President.

Now, Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Tom Lantos, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are openly discussing a diplomatic trip to "dialogue" with Iran.  In the Byzantine world of foreign relations, that's like trying to dismantle a nuke wearing only a head scarf for protection.

The Washington Post called Speaker Pelosi's mission to Syria "foolish."  Vice President Cheney called it "bad behavior."  We call it felony.

April 12, 2007
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