White House Petition to Charge ‘Treasonous’ Senators for Iran Letter Breaks 100,000 Signers in One Day

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A petition posted to the White House’s ‘We the People’ do it yourself petition site on Monday calls for prosecution under the Logan Act of the forty-seven U.S. senators who signed a letter initiated by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) to the Iranian government about the negotiations for a nuclear deal between the Islamist state sponsor of terrorism and President Barack Obama.

The petition accuses the senators of having committed a “treasonous offense” and violating the Logan Act which prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting unauthorized negotiations with foreign powers.

Signers of the petition rocketed it past the 100,000 minimum signers set by the Obama administration to receive a response from the White House in just one day. The petition was created by “C.H.” of Bogata, New Jersey on Monday the same day the letter was released and by late Tuesday evening it had well over 118,000 signatures. In a one-hour period Tuesday night over seven thousand signatures were added to the petition.

The text of the petition reads:

“WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

“File charges against the 47 U.S. Senators in violation of The Logan Act in attempting to undermine a nuclear agreement.

“On March 9th, 2015, forty-seven United States Senators committed a treasonous offense when they decided to violate the Logan Act, a 1799 law which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years.

“At a time when the United States government is attempting to reach a potential nuclear agreement with the Iranian government, 47 Senators saw fit to instead issue a condescending letter to the Iranian government stating that any agreement brokered by our President would not be upheld once the president leaves office.

“This is a clear violation of federal law. In attempting to undermine our own nation, these 47 senators have committed treason.

The signers of the petition will likely end up disappointed, as law professor Steve Vladeck points out, the Logan Act targets deeds conducted “without authority of the United States.”

…”critically, the citizen must act “without authority of the United States.” Although most assume that means without authority of the Executive Branch, the Logan Act itself does not specify what this term means, and the State Department told Congress in 1975 that “Nothing in section 953 . . . would appear to restrict members of the Congress from engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties under the Constitution.” That doesn’t mean Members would have immunity under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause; it just means the statute would arguably not apply in the first place. Combined with the rule of lenity and the constitutional concerns identified below, it seems likely that contemporary and/or future courts would interpret this provision to not apply to such official communications from Congress.”

Text of the Logan Act:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of 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, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

“This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.”

Text of the senators’ letter to Iran and list of signers:

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

“First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

“Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.

“What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

“We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”

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