Did Speaker Pelosi Commit a Felony By Going to Damascus?

The Wall Street Journal thinks so. Robert Turner in an article today (subscription required) explains how Nancy Pelosi violate the Logan Act:

President John Adams requested the statute after a Pennsylvania pacifist named George Logan traveled to France in 1798 to assure the French government that the American people favored peace in the undeclared “Quasi War” being fought on the high seas between the two countries. In proposing the law, Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut explained that the object was, as recorded in the Annals of Congress, “to punish a crime which goes to the destruction of the executive power of the government. He meant that description of crime which arises from an interference of individual citizens in the negotiations of our executive with foreign governments.”

The debate on this bill ran nearly 150 pages in the Annals. On Jan. 16, 1799, Rep. Isaac Parker of Massachusetts explained, “the people of the United States have given to the executive department the power to negotiate with foreign governments, and to carry on all foreign relations, and that it is therefore an usurpation of that power for an individual to undertake to correspond with any foreign power on any dispute between the two governments, or for any state government, or any other department of the general government, to do it.”

Griswold and Parker were Federalists who believed in strong executive power. But consider this statement by Albert Gallatin, the future Secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson, who was wary of centralized government: “it would be extremely improper for a member of this House to enter into any correspondence with the French Republic . . . As we are not at war with France, an offence of this kind would not be high treason, yet it would be as criminal an act, as if we were at war . . . .” Indeed, the offense is greater when the usurpation of the president’s constitutional authority is done by a member of the legislature — all the more so by a Speaker of the House — because it violates not just statutory law but constitutes a usurpation of the powers of a separate branch and a breach of the oath of office Ms. Pelosi took to support the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has spoken clearly on this aspect of the separation of powers. In Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall used the president’s authority over the Department of State as an illustration of those “important political powers” that, “being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive.” And in the landmark 1936 Curtiss-Wright case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed: “Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it.”

Ms. Pelosi and her Congressional entourage spoke to President Assad on various issues, among other things saying, “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” She is certainly not the first member of Congress — of either party — to engage in this sort of behavior, but her position as a national leader, the wartime circumstances, the opposition to the trip from the White House, and the character of the regime she has chosen to approach make her behavior particularly inappropriate.

As Mr. Turner writes in his first paragraph, President Bush won’t touch this extremely political issue, but he suggests that perhaps Patrick Fitzgerald needs to step in. That won’t happen. Even though Speaker Pelosi won’t be tried in a court of law, she should be tried in the court of pubic opinion. Unfortunately, though, I suspect most of the American people either didn’t pay any attention to Mrs. Pelosi’s trip or, if they did pay attention, they just didn’t care that she completely overstepped her bounds. I think the American people are too busy enjoying their bread and circuses to care that the Democrats are trying to marginalize President Bush and take over the government in their quest for complete power.

Wizbang Weekend Caption Contest™
Bread Lines & Soup Kitchens