Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Senators who reached out to Iran’s leaders to undermine President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations probably broke the law, and they're going to get away with it.

The law they probably broke, the Logan Act of 1799, allows for fines and up to three years in prison.

The act bans U.S. citizens from engaging “without authority of the United States” in “correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government ... with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government ... in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States.”

Fortunately for Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and the 46 Senate co-signers of his open letter to Iran, the law is not enforced and is likely unconstitutional.

[RELATED: Democrats Denounce Tom Cotton Letter on Iran]

“They probably were in violation of the act, yes,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, probably broke the law, too, by working with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undermine the nuclear negotiations with Iran, he says.

But Vladeck, co-editor-in-chief of the legal blog Just Security, says senators could argue they were indeed acting with the authority of the United States or more convincingly that the act violates the First Amendment.

“The Logan Act is a vestigial and anachronistic holdover from a bygone era,” he says. “There's never been a successful prosecution under the act, and the last indictment was in 1803.”

[MORE: Iran Says Cotton Letter Suggests U.S. 'Not Trustworthy' ]