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What is the Logan Act?

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  • Written By: Sherry Holetzky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
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The Logan Act is a federal law that makes it a felony for any American citizen to attempt to negotiate with a foreign government or attempt to influence foreign policy without clear authority from the executive branch of the U.S. government. It was passed in 1799, due to interference by George Logan in relations with France and is still on the books at present, although it has since been revamped. Logan, whom the Act is obviously named for, had no authority to visit France. Congress soon realized that such attempts could very well give mixed signals during tensions between the U.S. and other nations and thus passed the Logan Act.

The constitutionality of the Logan Act hasn’t been thoroughly tested. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has acknowledged in other cases that the executive branch alone, namely the president, has the power to speak for the United States or the authority to appoint a spokesperson. It should also be noted that the text of the Logan Act makes clear that its purpose is to prevent any person without the proper authority from interfering in disputes between the United States and foreign governments. Such a usurpation of executive power could clearly send mixed messages or dangerously undermine foreign policy.

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The Logan Act stipulates that no citizen may directly or indirectly engage in correspondence with a foreign government or officer thereof without the proper authority, regarding any dispute with the U.S. with the intent of influencing conduct or subverting measures enacted by the United States. There have been several events that appear to be direct violations of the Logan Act. However, no one has yet been convicted or punished under the Act. Many citizens are curious as to why other citizens, celebrities, and members of Congress have been allowed to engage in what appears to be the exact conduct prohibited by the Logan Act without being held accountable.

Examples include Jane Fonda’s notorious visit and photo ops in Hanoi, and the meetings between John Kerry and North Vietnamese leaders in Paris, while still at war. During the 2004 presidential election, there were questionable visits to the Middle East. Other names included in this list are George McGovern and Jesse Jackson for engaging with Cuba, and Speaker of the House Jim Wright who met with the Sandinistas of Nicaragua during the Reagan Administration.

In 2007, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, decided to meet with Syrian President Bashir Assad against the wishes of the U.S. State Department. Critics, including those on the left who disagreed with Nancy Pelosi, condemned the meeting and her misguided attempt to garner peace between Israel and Syria and to engage Syria in diplomacy despite the president’s decision to refrain while Syria appears to support terrorism.

Perhaps the Logan Act should be utilized to thwart future missions similar to those already conducted. There have been incidents beyond those mentioned, but little or no action has been taken against anyone involved. Using the Logan Act to make an example of those who overstep boundaries might help limit such actions in the future before serious damage is done.

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anon222946
Post 9

Will the wisegeek please comment on the man's question concerning the bilderberg group's annual meetings, since these rich jerks are allegedly our "shadow government? Wake up, America!

Moderator's reply: Thank you for visiting wiseGEEK and participating in our discussions! Unfortunately, we are not equipped to respond to specific questions, which is why we created this discussion section on each article page. In this section, a reader may discuss article topics with other readers. Whether and when your questions will be answered, however, depends on fellow readers and posters.

anon124770
Post 8

I always knew that Ronald Reagan had broken the law when he was running for president and negotiating with the Iranians for the hostages.

This Logan Act is a law that is used for traitors, and apparently cannot be used to prevent 'speech', but Carter should have used it with respect to Reagan.

anon113353
Post 7

So why isn't our president, barack hussein obama, being tried for impeachable offences, for the high crimes he has undeniably committed?

anon58852
Post 6

Unbelievable, the right wing's selective blindness. You allege isolated violations of the Logan Act by centrists and leftists. You leave out the open, notorious, coordinated, decades-long efforts of The Family (C Street), a power structure including numerous members of Congress, to cut separate deals adverse to U.S. interests with foreign powers.

Two recent examples: (1) Family member and Senator Inhofe (R, OK) traveled to Copenhagen with the announced intent of disabling the President's ability to negotiate agreements regarding climate control with other foreign leaders.

(2)They worked with their "main brother" member in Africa, who is president of Uganda, to implement an anti-U.S. campaign to destroy the condoms we (the U.S.) provided as part of our AIDS control effort in Africa; furthermore, The Family was a major instigator of new Ugandan legislation providing for life imprisonment or execution by hanging of gay Ugandans. (The bill specifically stipulates that gay Ugandans living abroad will be extradicted to apply these punishments; not much question whose idea that was.)

But ignore all this open anti-American activity, and obsess on Jane Fonda's trip to Hanoi a generation or more ago. It's more and more obvious that the right can't deal with the truth.

anon58365
Post 5

If we enforced all our laws, we would probably have to imprison most members of Congress, past and present, and probably quite a few presidents. But if they did the crime, they should do the time. Richard Nixon was probably the last president with whom the American people got a fair accounting. He was forced from office.

anon58265
Post 4

isn't the Bilderberg group guilty of the Logan Act?

anon43414
Post 3

This seems to be a one party view as if there still is a two party system. *All* of them have done it.

anon21389
Post 2

As obama refuses to provide a Made in the USA COLB, the Logan Act applies for conspiring with agents of the CFR, trilateral commission, owners of the federal reserve.

anon18184
Post 1

Why have a law like this if it is not going to be enforced? Today there is information, that has even mistakenly been confirmed that Barack Obama, acting on his own, to usurp the president of the United States telling Iraq officials to deal with him. To wait until the election is over and then he will negotiate with them. This is in direct violation of the Logan Act!

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