Last year, former Secretary of State John Kerry told Hugh Hewitt he had met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” since leaving his post under the presidency of Barack Obama. On Thursday, President Donald Trump called for Kerry to be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act by carrying on unauthorized negotiations with a foreign — and hostile — power.
Speaking about Iran, Trump pivoted to the former secretary of State. “John Kerry, he speaks to them a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That’s a violation of the Logan Act,” the president declared.
“And frankly, he should be prosecuted on that,” Trump said.
He acknowledged that his staff are reticent to move against Kerry because he is a prominent political opponent. “My people don’t want to do anything that’s — only the Democrats do that kind of stuff. You know. If it were the opposite way, they’d prosecute him under the Logan Act,” he noted, with a nod to the fact that the FBI under Obama pursued Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) warrants against Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election, a scandal popularly known as “SpyGate.”
Furthermore, under Obama the IRS also targeted political opponents, and a class-action lawsuit from tea party groups was settled for $3.5 million in 2017.
Trump was both praising and expressing impatience with the reticence of his staff. It is wise to wait and avoid aggressive action against political opponents if possible, but when they flagrantly break the law, such an action may be justified.
“John Kerry violated the Logan Act,” Trump repeated. “He’s talking to Iran and has been, has many meetings, and many phone calls, and he’s telling them what to do. That is a total violation of the Logan Act.”
He urged Iran to come to the negotiating table, and he would work out a deal with them. “What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down, we can make a deal, a fair deal. We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, not too much to ask,” the president said. “And we would help put them back into great shape… But they’re listening to John Kerry, who’s violated a very important element of what he’s supposed to be doing. He violated the Logan Act, plain and simple, he shouldn’t be doing that.”
John Kerry, America’s second worst Secretary of State in history behind Hillary, is violating the Logan Act by colluding with Iran. Shameful! pic.twitter.com/ZAeUkrmEHU
— Trump War Room – Text WOKE to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) May 9, 2019
Kerry spokesman Matt Summers declared that Trump was entirely wrong, but he did not explicitly deny that the former secretary of State met with Iran, with the purpose of sustaining Obama’s feckless Iran Deal — by which the U.S. secretly funded the Islamic Republic, to the tune of over $10 billion.
“Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story,” Summers told Politico. Trump is “wrong about the facts, wrong about the law, and sadly he’s been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe. Secretary Kerry helped negotiate a nuclear agreement that worked to solve an intractable problem. The world supported it then and supports it still. We’d hope the president would focus on solving foreign policy problems for America instead of attacking his predecessors for theater.”
Yet accusing Kerry of violating the Logan Act is far from mere theater.
The meetings between Zarif and the former secretary of State were first reported by The Boston Globe in May 2018, and in September Kerry confirmed them to Hugh Hewitt. Kerry confessed to talking with Zarif about the nuclear deal. “What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better,” he said.
After Obama left the White House, Kerry became a private citizen. His policy meetings with Zarif are extremely inappropriate, if not illegal.
“What Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented,” current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in September. “This is a former secretary of State engaged with the largest state sponsor of terror.”
Kerry dismissed the controversy, noting that he had briefed Pompeo and the State Department about his meetings with Zarif. He then engaged in an ad hominem attack on Trump, saying the president should “be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran’s [foreign minister].”
In April, Trump tweeted that “Iran is being given VERY BAD advice by [John Kerry] and people who helped him lead the U.S. into the very bad Iran Nuclear Deal. Big violation of Logan Act?”
Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil. Iran is being given VERY BAD advice by @JohnKerry and people who helped him lead the U.S. into the very bad Iran Nuclear Deal. Big violation of Logan Act?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2019
The Logan Act, enacted in 1799, makes it illegal for unauthorized persons to negotiate with foreign governments that have a dispute with the United States. No one has ever been convicted of violating it.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.