Reckless Behavior: How 47 Senators Broke The Law with a Single Letter

There’s nothing like a slight treasonous scandal to pull a political writer out of a little sabbatical. When hearing of the controversy revolving around the Iran nuclear deal, I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. So here I am immersing myself in a political debate that should have bigger ramifications than it probably will.

Treason is defined in the dictionary as:

  1. The offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
  2. A violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
  3. The betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

It is the only crime that is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution (Article 3, Section 3):

“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.” – U.S. Constitution

Keep these definitions in mind as there is a possibility of these words resurfacing as we go through this whole ordeal.

The United States has been negotiating for a nuclear agreement with Iran since 2006, along with 5 other countries known as the P5+1 group. The five countries are the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, and China — the +1 is Germany. The goal is to keep Iran from having nuclear missiles. In 2013, an interim agreement was reached with a comprehensive agreement due in late March.

With the deadline approaching, some Senators have expressed concern over what a final comprehensive deal might look like and want the final deal to be debated and voted on in the Senate as a treaty would be under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution. However, freshman U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) went a step further by submitting a letter with 46 other Republican signatures to the leader of Iran stating that any nuclear treaty with the country would not be upheld once President Obama leaves office.

Before going any further, it is important to bring up the Logan Act, which was passed by Congress in 1799. It prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of this act is a felony.

“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.” – Logan Act

Under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, “[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…”

The president has the power to appoint ambassadors and to conduct negotiations with foreign governments. The Senate does not come in to the equation until a vote for approval is needed. Sen. Cotton does not have the authority to approach Iran on any subject that is concurrent with the ongoing negotiations. To have done so is a violation of the Logan Act.

According to a recent article on Politico, this is not the first time that one party has accused the other of violating the Logan Act. Republicans screamed it in 1987 after Congress cut off aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels.

Democrats ran (and ultimately won both chambers of Congress) in 2006 on forcing then-President George W. Bush to come up with a timetable for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Speaker Pelosi also went against the wishes of the White House in 2007 and traveled to Damascus to meet with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

So where does this leave us? If it has been done before then should we just brush it aside again? In this case, I would suggest no.

It does violate international law. It does undermine the full faith and credit of the U.S., which is already shaky in the world as it is; especially, in regards to Iran, where neither side completely trusts the other. Sen. Cotton had no authority to write and send that letter which was done in an effort to derail negotiations with a foreign government before a final deal is reached. It was out of his jurisdiction as a U.S. senator.

Remember those definitions of treason at the beginning? If this isn’t it then it comes dangerously close to that line. The overall goal of the letter was to do harm and to instill a sense of a betrayal against our country.

Image: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) / Source: NBCNews.com