Like a cresting wave, hysteria tied to executive orders is now met by childish hypocrisy. When will the embarrassment set in? Congressional Democrats allege that National Security Advisor-designee Michael Flynn, when he talked by phone with the Russian ambassador on December 29th, just three weeks before President Trump was sworn in, violated the Logan Act. What?
Across the weekend news programs, accusatory individuals spread words like criminal violation, felony, need to resign, and congressional investigation, freely as jam on bread. Yet they all know, for an absolute fact, this is a lot of whooped-up nonsense. Follow me, you will be truly amazed – they know.
They know – or should know – that the Logan Act dates to 1799, when a state legislator with no ties to any administration tried to assert himself as personal negotiator for final peace with France. The anti-Jefferson Federalists did not like this private initiative, so passed the Logan Act to make private ventures intent on negotiating personal treaties over international feuds a crime. The bill was whipped out in days.
And in the 200 years since, not a single individual has ever been prosecuted under the act, not one. And its constitutionality is widely doubted in any event, even by Democrat legal scholars. Funny how precedent and constitutionality matter when they work for a party, and not at all when they work against it.
The folly of casting anyone – let alone General Flynn, an incoming National Security Advisor – as violator of this important-sounding, but utterly obsolete and toothless Logan Act would be funny enough, if it were not being dressed up in congressional outrage, with somber questions like – yes – “what did he know, and when did he know it?” Watergate already, really?
How about who knew that the Logan Act was a patent, indefensible non-story from the get-go, and when did they know it? And why did they pursue it? And why did the media give this lark prime time coverage? And when did free speech or casual conversation with foreign nationals, on unclassified topics, become illegal and unconstitutional? Especially for an incoming administration, about to be jumped for being unprepared? Where is the sense of injustice toward General Flynn?
How about a historical refresher, that so silly was this act in its own day, dear Mr. Logan was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate? The topic was actually never raised again, and the act became a bit of tomfoolery, although never formally repealed.
How about this – since equal and opposite political facts seem the only way to stop hypocrisy: Not only was the incoming National Security Advisor entitled to talk about hopes for a better relationship with Russia.
Not only was the reported conversation in keeping with General Flynn’s hallmark in Afghanistan, namely that American national security has to move beyond kinetic, to winning hearts and minds. But his daring, non-story pales in comparison to overtures taken by candidate Barack Obama in mid-2008.
That is right. In July 2008, independent of any policy conversations by staff, candidate Obama went to the Middle East and Europe and spoke extensively, one-on-one, about policy with leaders from Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, France, Germany and Britain. As a candidate, not as a president-elect.
Without thought of violating the Logan Act, Mr. Obama conducted substantive conversations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s Prime Minister Elud Olmert, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his predecessor Tony Blair and opposition leader David Cameron. In short, in an effort to transparently promote his presidential candidacy, with all manner of topics, candidate Obama flew straight into the Logan Act.
But no one cared. Not one news story. Not one. Why? Because the Logan Act is a non-story; it is a historical anachronism. And Mr. Obama was not a Republican. He was a Democratic candidate desperately trying to assume credibility, offering himself as a vehicle for world peace – much as Mr. Logan, with less impressive credentials or press encouragement, was seeking to promote peace in France. For his efforts, Mr. Logan got a silly act and a Senate seat. For his efforts, Mr. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize.
To cap the irony and Obama counter-example, before assuming office and not president-elect, Mr. Obama spoke of peace and how to end world conflicts on July 24, 2008, in a speech at the Victory Column in Berlin, before an estimated 200,000 people. But no talk of Logan Act. None.
So now we return to the humble act of a casual, hopeful phone call by an incoming National Security Advisor with an ambassador, above board and without specific objectives sought or achieved, except to take a long history of seeking to advance diplomacy and prepare for reality weeks ahead.
From this, if we are to believe the overwrought and incensed, perpetually enraged and indignant, accusatory Democrats in Congress, we must conclude that an inapt, unused, toothless, constitutionally indefensible Logan Act is now a big news story – heart of a new Watergate? Surely, you jest. Please, spare me the play.
Soon, we will have another flood of well-paid protestors, a march for reinstating the 1799 Logan Act, perhaps retrospective prosecution of Logan. More seriously, is it not time to turn down the volume. When will we all, as Americans, tuck our shirts back in, sit up straight again, take real as real, and leave nonsense as nonsense? The world really is a dangerous place. There really are issues of import before Congress. Is it not time we started acting like one nation? If not now, when?