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Pelosi's Syria diplomacy a felony?

Nancy Pelosi in Syria (Image: Newsbusters.org)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Damascus this week to discuss foreign policy issues with Syrian President Bashar Assad – against the wishes of President Bush – might be a felony under the Logan Act, according to a former State Department official.

The Logan Act, initiated by President John Adams in 1798, makes it a felony and provides for a prison sentence of up to three years for any American, “without authority of the United States,” to communicate with a foreign government in an effort to influence that government’s behavior on any “disputes or controversies with the United States,” points out Robert F. Turner, former acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, Turner says the Bush administration “isn’t going to want to touch this political hot potato, nor should it become a partisan issue.”

“Maybe special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, whose aggressive prosecution of Lewis Libby establishes his independence from White House influence, should be called back,” suggests Turner, who served in the Reagan administration in 1984-85 and also is a former chairman of the American Bar Association standing committee on law and national security.

Pelosi told reporters that during her talks Wednesday with Assad she “determined that the road to Damascus is the road to peace.”

“We came in friendship, hope,” she said.

The House speaker also said she conveyed an Israeli message to Assad that the Jewish state was ready to resume peace talks. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quickly issued a denial, however, stating Israel’s policy toward Syria has not changed.

As WND reported, members of terrorist organizations whose top leaders live in Syria called Pelosi’s Damascus visit “brave” and “very appreciated,” saying it could bring about “important changes” to America’s foreign policy, including talks with “Middle East resistance groups.”

George Logan (Painting by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1804)

The Logan Act was requested by Adams after a Pennsylvania pacifist named George Logan traveled to France in 1798 to assure the French government the American people favored peace in the undeclared “Quasi War” being fought on the high seas between the two countries, Turner points out. Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut explained the object was “to punish a crime” arising “from an interference of individual citizens in the negotiations of our executive with foreign governments.”

Turner says that while Pelosi certainly is not the first member of Congress to engage in this sort of behavior, “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.”

A purely fact-finding trip by a congressional delegation is not a problem, Turner says, nor is formal negotiation with foreign representatives if authorized by the president.

“Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism,” Turner says. “It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.”

Turner concludes: “The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to [flout] the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.”

Pelosi’s office could not be reached for comment. Congressional offices are closed today for the Easter holiday weekend.

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