Hardball's Chris Matthews Suggests GOP Senators May Have Committed 'Sedition' Over Iran Letter

March 9th, 2015 8:53 PM

In a sign that the liberal media is deathly afraid of the American public coming around to Republican criticisms of President Obama vis-a-vis Iran, Hardball host Chris Matthews tonight suggested Republican senators may be guilty of sedition by violating the 1799 Logan Act. 

Matthews initially used the S-word at the conclusion of an interview segment with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and Politico senior foreign affairs correspondent Michael Crowley: 

There's no principle involved with the opposition position on this thing. This [sic] 47 senators today you know, I don't know if it was sedition under the law or whatever it was, but it was an attempt to bring down this president on foreign policy.

At the end of the program, an exasperated Matthews vented his spleen about the GOP, reading from the Logan Act of 1799 and insisting that all 47 senators who signed it violated the law and risk fines and a prison sentence:

Let me finish tonight with the language of the Logan Act which Congress passed and the president signed in the earliest days of our republic. "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."

I wonder if the senators who rushed to sign that letter to the Iranian leaders had read this document which is known as the Logan Act. It basically says that only the government of the United States is allowed under the law to negotiate with foreign governments. Again, I wonder if these 47 senators gave thought to what they were doing here. Then again, as I said in the beginning of this show, they did know exactly what they were doing. They were trying to undermine the work of an American president by first of all disrespecting him, even if they don't get charged and imprisoned for it.

What they've done here is craven.

The constitutionality of the Logan Act is open to question and hasn't been adjudicated in a federal tribunal, but it seems highly unlikely that a federal judge worth his salt would countenance a prosecution of a senator for an open letter sent to express an opinion on a matter of foreign policy. After all, Congress and the president share responsibility for American foreign policy, what with the U.S. Senate being the body which must ratify any treaty before it goes into effect and with the Congress holding the power of the purse for enforcing any elements of a U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal.

An open letter to a foreign power reminding said entity of this constitutional reality hardly seems to qualify as the sort of secret, private correspondence barred of private citizens under the Logan Act. Besides First Amendment freedom of speech protections, it's arguable that Article I, Section 6 speech and debate protections for senators and representatives -- "for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place" -- would also extend to formal correspondence and would apply in this case.

It's debatable, of course, whether it's "craven" at worst or poor form at best for a bunch of senators to intercede in the midst of ongoing presidential negotiations with a foreign power, but methinks ol' Chris protests too much, particularly in service of a president who has shown he's all too willing to intrude onto congressional turf when it comes to legislative prerogatives -- e.g. executive amnesty, practically rewriting by executive fiat more troublesome portions of ObamaCare.

At any rate, here is the entire text of the aforementioned letter. If you see anything unconstitutional, seditious, or criminal, please explain in the comments section for this blog post:

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.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT  
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA       
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY      
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL         
Senator John McCain, R-AZ 
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK           
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS   
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL  
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID           
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC       
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX             
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD  
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA  
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY     
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS           
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL       
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO     
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH           
Senator John Boozman, R-AR          
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA  
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL  
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI 
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT       
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH 
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV  
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC       
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX       
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE  
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV         
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA    
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO           
Senator James Lankford, R-OK       
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA           
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC   
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA       
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE     
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK