Anyone who doubts that the media plays favorites need look no further than the way pundits embraced the idea that Donald Trump’s transition team members probably violated the Logan Act by talking to foreign officials before their man was sworn in as president and compare it to the way those same pundits have ignored recent contacts former Secretary of State John Kerry has had with officials of the Palestinian authority in the Middle East.
No one has been prosecuted under the Logan Act since the 1850s, but The New York Times and other mainline media outlets in this country devoted more than a little ink a few months ago to the possibility that Mr. Trump’s associates had violated it and should perhaps be charged with lobbying foreign powers to oppose U.S. foreign policy.
The Logan Act prohibits Americans from negotiating with or trying to cut deals with foreign powers with the “intent” to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States. While there have been no prosecutions under the Logan Act for more than a century, pundits and politicians often allege that those with whom they disagree have violated it and ought to be hauled into court or jailed for doing so.
In years past, Democrats accused Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and House Speaker John Boehner of violating the act while Republicans charged that Jimmy Carter, Sen. George McGovern, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Jane Fonda and Jesse Jackson of doing the same. In each case, the other side said the charges were ridiculous and no one was charged.
Still, the Logan Act remains on the books and when it was learned that after the 2016 election, but before Mr. Trump was sworn in as president, Michael Flynn while meeting with the Russian ambassador apparently urged that Russia veto a pending U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the Act resurfaced.
While Mr. Flynn denied undercutting U.S. foreign policy and others pointed out that while the Israeli settlement policy remained controversial there was at the time of Mr. Flynn’s conversation with the ambassador no policy to undercut as the Obama administration abstained rather than voting for or against the resolution. Mr. Trump’s critics demanded that Mr. Flynn be prosecuted. During that same meeting, Mr. Flynn urged that Russia shouldn’t overreact to newly imposed sanctions and thereby worsen relations between Washington and Moscow.
While Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s plea deal with Mr. Flynn doesn’t mention possible Logan Act violations, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner and others point out that both urging a U.N. veto and arguing against anything that would lead to a further deterioration in US/Russian relations were violations of the Act and are therefore charges that remain “available” should Mr. Mueller decide to pursue them.
Then came the report that Mr. Kerry, in meeting with a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas explicitly urged the Palestinian Authority to refuse to “yield” to President Trump’s demands, to “stay strong and play for time” as he believes there is a good chance that Mr. Trump will be drummed out of office before the end of this year.
Mr. Kerry reportedly also said that he is himself thinking about running in 2020 implying that if he does and wins, the Palestinians will have a real friend in the White House. Reports of the meeting first appeared in Israel’s press and were picked up around the world.
Seeming more Trump-like than Mr. Trump, Mr. Kerry and his spokespeople denied that he said anything as explicit as was reported and repeated earlier denials that he is thinking of running for president. They pointedly did not comment on or deny the allegation that the former Secretary of State said he believes Mr. Trump could be forced from office by the end of the year.
Fake news? Maybe. But what’s interesting is the way the so-called mainstream media failed to even suggest that by possibly explicitly urging a foreign leader to reject a U.S. foreign policy proposal, Mr. Kerry might have crossed the very line that they had earlier been in high dudgeon when it appeared Mr. Trump’s people had crossed. There were no New York Times columns on the Logan Act or how it might be revitalized as a way of prosecuting Mr. Kerry.
A double standard? Yes, but what’s new.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.
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