Jimmy Carter Gives Logan Act a Boost The Logan Act bans unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with a foreign government. It was passed in 1799, and there are no recorded prosecutions under the law. Why is it an issue now? Two words: Jimmy Carter.


Jimmy Carter Gives Logan Act a Boost

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89922213/89922331" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A former president is back in the news causing a stir and rattling nerves in Bush administration. Not the most recent former president, Bill Clinton, the former president has been making waves overseas. Jimmy Carter's travels sent senior news analyst Dan Schorr to virtual dusty shelves of the law library.

SCHORR: There is a law on the books which might send some of our freelance diplomats to prison for up to three years if they were ever enforced. That law is the Logan Act, a federal statute passed in 1799 that bans private citizens from unauthorized negotiation with foreign governments.

It was aimed at Dr. George Logan of Pennsylvania who had gone to Paris to negotiate with the French government about some skirmishes at sea.

Since that time, the possibility of a Logan Act indictment is raised every now and then when some public-spirited citizens decides, without authorization, to try to improve relations with some foreign government or organization.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is remembered for having gone to Syria on his own in 1983 and bringing back a captured American flyer, Navy Lieutenant Robert Goodman. Under these circumstances, no one was inclined to criticize. There were more talk of a Logan Act indictment when Jackson visited Havana and invited Fidel Castro to visit the United States, but that quickly abated when Jackson returned to Washington with 48 men freed from Cuban prisons, some of them Americans.

Last year, there was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unauthorized visit to Syria to discuss improving relations. President Bush, called the trip counterproductive, said it would send mixed signals. But he made no move to take legal action against her. Former President Jimmy Carter said, I'm glad she went.

Now, Mr. Carter himself has taken an action which could make him the target of the Logan Act, at least theoretically. He has traveled to Damascus for talks with the militant Palestinian Hamas organization. And he emerged saying that Hamas would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor in peace. Not so, Hamas says. They would accept a Palestinian state, but without the recognition of Israel. In dealing with Hamas, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, Carter has made his contribution to anger and confusion in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But last time I checked, no one was preparing to throw the Logan book at him.

This is Daniel Schorr.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.