Explaining why The Logan Act is useless has felt like the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch. I identify with John Cleese's character as he tries to explain in every imaginable phrasing that the damn bird is dead.
Quick Disclaimer, I am not claiming charges should be brought or that anyone actually broke the law. This is just about the uselessness of the Logan Act.
Every time a new revelation drops about possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign or Michael Flynn, the Logan Act mentions begin an ivy like crawl from every corner of social media.
I don’t blame anyone for thinking the Logan Act is relevant. It really fits some of the news and speculation being reported. The Logan Act was intended to prohibit US citizens, without authority, from interfering in relationships between the United States and foreign governments.
A quick Google search of any highly influential political figure will pull up articles and blogs arguing that said politician violated the Logan Act. This has been a popular trend for quite a while, from the 47 senators who wrote an open letter to Iran in disagreement with Obama’s nuclear deal to Dennis Rodman's visit with Kim Jong Un in North Korea. Here’s the thing The Logan Act isn’t really a thing.
The history of the Logan Act is a mere handful of judicial references but only one indictment. Francis Flournoy wrote an article in the Frankfort Guardian of Freedom pushing for a separate Western nation allied to France, that was in 1803. Though the grand jury indicted Flournoy, no prosecution ever followed, seriously EVER. That’s the literal history of the Logan Act, one indictment and ZERO prosecutions in 218 years.
It’s A Political Stunt
The Logan Act was enacted in 1799 after Pennsylvania state legislator George Logan, a Democratic-Republican and friend of Thomas Jefferson, made a private visit to France to ease tensions between the countries due to the XYZ Affair and following Quasi War. That trip was criticized as inappropriate interference from the Federalists who controlled Congress and the White House.
It was enacted shortly after the presidential campaign between Adams and Jefferson; a campaign that revealed a whole new level of personal attacks between candidates. Also at this time the French Revolutionary Wars was happening; Adams and the Federalists supported Britain while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. The Logan Act was really America’s first big taste of post election partisan politics.
The Logan Act is political revenge from the Federalists who disliked that George Logan successfully negotiated the release of captured American sailors and restored trade between the US and France after Adams and the Federalist attempts failed.
If Not Logan Than What?
Since I am killing an easy reference by calling the Logan Act bogus, I should at the least contribute a solution. I am not a legal expert but Politifact recently did a piece as a rebuttal to a Fox News host claim that no law forbids Russia-Trump collusion. Politifact mentions a couple options like anti-coercion laws and fraud, which seem reasonable.
If someone is actually charged with something they will most likely have multiple impermissible acts tied to multiple laws and not one single law. In any event, the Logan Act will not be involved.
Keep doing what you are doing but let's all forget about the Logan Act. It's a two-hundred year old political grudge that is only a tool for political rhetoric and we have plenty of that stuff just laying around here.