Earlier, Ed wrote about Sen. Chris Murphy’s meeting with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif and the response from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who made clear the meeting was not approved. Today, President Trump raised the issue with a group of reporters, saying it sounded to him like a violation of the Logan Act:
President Trump: “I saw that…Senator Murphy met with the Iranians; is that a fact? I just saw that on the way over. Is there anything that I should know? Because that sounds like to me a violation of the Logan Act.” pic.twitter.com/qOEwDaRptR
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 18, 2020
Having Trump raise this is probably the only way it will get any media attention. Quite simply, no one takes the Logan Act seriously unless the person being accused is Michael Flynn. Then a violation of the Logan Act is terribly serious and cause for an FBI investigation. But when a Democrat sits down secretly with a representative of the world’s leading sponsor of terror, that gets a shrug.
The Federalist noted earlier today that Sen. Murphy initially refused to comment on his meeting with Zarif but today he published a description of his visit to Munich on Medium. Here’s a bit of it [emphasis added]:
My second objective is to make some waves within the large Middle East delegation that is in Munich. Trump’s Middle East policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Everywhere you look in the region, he has helped make things worse. Our troops are at risk of being kicked out of Iraq. Iran is restarting elements of their nuclear program. Syria is more dangerous than ever. Lebanon has fallen into the hands of Hezbollah. I have been invited to sit on a panel of Middle East Foreign Ministers. I am the sole U.S. figure on the panel, and I use the spotlight to make the case that the overriding U.S. interest in the region should not be trying to help Saudi Arabia gain preeminence over Iran, as is the policy priority under Trump. Our goal instead should be reducing, not ramping up, tensions between these two regional powers, not on trying to make sure one side eventually prevails. No doubt Saudi Arabia is an ally, but they are a deeply imperfect ally, and we should be more conscious about when our interests align with their interests. My comments are provocative, but they are designed to be. I want the leaders in Munich to understand that Democrats have a different view of the Middle East than Trump — this will be welcome news to some at the conference…
As the sun sets in Munich, I have one more mission. For years, I have met on occasion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, during both the Obama and Trump Administrations. I have no delusions about Iran — they are our adversary, responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans and unacceptable levels of support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. But I think it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies. Discussions and negotiations are a way to ease tensions and reduce the chances for crisis. But Trump, of course, has no such interests. For the last three years, there has been no diplomatic channel between America and Iran, and not coincidentally, tensions have escalated, most recently resulting in over 100 American soldiers being injured in an Iranian rocket attack on a U.S. base in Iraq.
I guess that’s an admission that Sen. Murphy has previously met with Zarif during the Trump administration. How many of these meetings has he held? Finally, after describing the meeting with Zarif in Munich, Sen. Murphy offers this paragraph of caveats:
I don’t know whether my visit with Zarif will make a difference. I’m not the President or the Secretary of State — I’m just a rank and file U.S. Senator. I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the U.S. government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so. But if Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should. And Congress is a co-equal branch of government, responsible along with the Executive for setting foreign policy. A lack of dialogue leaves nations guessing about their enemy’s intentions, and guessing wrong can lead to catastrophic mistakes.
Notice his use of the word “whole” in that sentence above. It really does sound as if Murphy is saying he can conduct foreign policy on behalf of part of the U.S. government, i.e. progressives in Congress. That’s bolstered by the fact that earlier he wrote he was eager to let foreign leaders know “that Democrats have a different view of the Middle East than Trump.” That sounds a lot like someone trying to undermine rather than reinforce U.S. foreign policy.
So what happened to all the progressive Logan Act scholars who were upset over Gen. Flynn’s call with Sergey Kislyak during the transition? Here’s how the Washington Post reported on the Logan Act back in 2017:
The nature of Flynn’s pre-inauguration message to Kislyak triggered debate among officials in the Obama administration and intelligence agencies over whether Flynn had violated a law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with that debate. Those officials were already alarmed by what they saw as a Russian assault on the U.S. election.
U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.
As I’ve said before, the Logan Act is nonsense. Still, it’s interesting that the mainstream media doesn’t seem terribly interested in whether or not Murphy crossed a line with his multiple meetings with the Foreign Minister of an enemy country to convey an alternate view of foreign policy. All of the Logan Act scholars seem to have vanished into thin air. It’s almost like there are two completely different sets of rules in play.