Commentary Magazine


Is Jimmy Carter in Violation of the Logan Act?

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

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.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.