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Ted Kennedy and the Logan Act

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson reminds us of an “arresting” document that London Times reporter Tim Sebastian dug up in the Soviet archives in 1991. It was a memorandum from the head of the KGB to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, detailing a message that had been sent from Ted Kennedy via a friend and former senator who was visiting Moscow in 1983. The content of that message was, as Robinson aptly characterizes it, a “quid pro quo.” Kennedy offered, in the KGB man’s description, “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the U.S.A.” In return, Kennedy would broker a series of television interviews with Andropov on the major American networks.

Even if the motive for Kennedy’s freelance diplomacy had been solely his sincere displeasure with the policies of the Reagan administration, his action would have been ethically improper. But the memo indicates that what primarily drove Kennedy was not disagreement with the administration — which, according to the Constitution, is charged with directing foreign policy — but political ambition:

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

I’ve written previously in this space about the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens “directly or indirectly commenc[ing] or carr[ying] 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.” The cause of my earlier invocation of the law — which has never been enforced — was Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus last year (though Carter could have been brought up on charges of violating the act for any of the freelance diplomatic trips he has performed in the nearly three decades since he left the White House).

The episode of which Robinson reminds us had been revealed many years earlier and was largely ignored by the media at the time, perhaps because the fall of the Soviet Union obviated the salience of a senator’s by then eight-year-old attempt to undercut the foreign policy of a democratically elected president. But the brazenness of this act galls nonetheless, not least because it is so discordant with the behavior of Ted’s brothers, staunch anti-Communists both. As we contemplate the legacy of Ted Kennedy this week, this event should certainly rank highly in our collective assessment.


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