Michael Flynn, former National Security Adviser to President Trump, had a surprise resignation this February after the Washington Post ran a story that he communicated with the Russian ambassador about sanctions instituted under the Obama administration before taking office. This seems suspect, but in all actuality, if Flynn and the ambassador struck a deal before Trump took office, this would illegal under the Logan Act. This incident has revived interested in the 200 – year old statute, which essentially bars private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers when they have disputes with the United States.
While violation of the Act is a felony and calls for fines or imprisonment for this behavior, it has actually never been used to successfully prosecute any American citizen. It was created in response to George Logan back in 1799. Doctor Logan attempted to negotiate directly with the French government in an attempt to thwart the Federalists who controlled the government at the time.. One person was indicted under the act – Francis Flourney, a farmer from Kentucky, after he wrote an article about the need for a separate country in the Western United States, to ally with France. It’s not implemented often because we have had supervening legislation, and the government is now loathe to pass any laws that regulate what people say, given the strength of the First Amendment The Logan Act is in the neighborhood of such restrictions, and there are issues with the way it is written, which is why it has rarely been enforced. The Logan Act has fairly sweeping provisions, lacking the specificity with which other criminal statutes are drafted. The Logan Act has been revived for parties to score political points with their constituents, resulting in either resignations or shaming political opponents with questions of their morality – as seen with Michael Flynn. Jesse Jackson was threatened with the Logan Act by President Reagan when he negotiated in Syria and Cuba for prison releases in 1984. Most recently, the Act was mentioned when 47 Republican Senators wrote a letter directly to Iran in response to the nuclear deal.
This Act does give even more motivation to Congressional democrats to call for an investigation into Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russia, as well as a classified briefing from the FBI on what was unearthed in their wire taps of Mr. Flynn. Most of the opposition (Congressional republicans) do not seem interested in investigating any further into Mr. Flynn’s relationship and conversations with Russia. The real issue is whether Mr. Flynn was fully honest with the FBI when they questioned him about these conversations. It is a crime to lie to federal agents, called Making False Statements. Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff and Scooter Libby have all been convicted of this. So, even if Michael Flynn can’t be convicted for the conversations he had with Russia, he could face trouble for lying to the relevant authorities about it. Although, for now at least, it does not appear that the powers-that-be are in a hurry to punish Flynn for any of his actions.