The Logan Act.

Deborah (“Debby”) Norris came from a prominent 18th Century Philadelphia family.[1]  She married Dr. George[2] Logan, another child of a prominent 18th Century Philadelphia family and a Loyalist.  “Lively times” followed.[3]  George Logan returned to Philadelphia after the Revolution.  Indeed, he became a friend of Thomas Jefferson and helped to found the Democratic Party.  So, reconciliation occurred between former enemies.

A similar spirit of reconciliation took hold in Anglo-American relations.  Jay’s Treaty (1795), negotiated by the Federalist government of George Washington, spackled over a bunch of cracks in the relationship with Britain.[4]  For domestic political reasons, the Democrats opposed letting bygones be bygones.

So far, so good.  A problem arose, however, because France had helped the United States achieve independence.  In return, the United States had agreed to repay to France substantial loans made to the revolutionary government and had signed a treaty of alliance with France.  Then the French Revolution broke out, the revolutionaries abolished the monarchy (1792), and the French—“in a rit of fealous jage”[5]—declared war on almost every other country in Europe, including Britain.  The alliance treaty required the United States to go to war against Britain.

The Americans declined to fulfill the terms of the alliance; the French got bent out of shape and launched a naval war against American shipping; and the two countries negotiated in search of a settlement.  However, several of the French delegates wanted bribes to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion, so most of the Americans left in a huff.[6]  At this point, George Logan inserted himself into the negotiations as a private citizen.  This effort led nowhere, any more than had the official negotiations.  Upon learning of Logan’s free-lancing, the Federalists–outraged at Democratic meddling in diplomacy–passed a law forbidding private citizens from intruding in negotiations with a country with whom the United States was at odds.

The so-called “Logan Law” remains on the books.[7]  Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, may have fallen afoul of this law.  Flynn had contact with the Russians during the period between the election of Trump and his inauguration.  Since Trump was not yet president, Flynn falls under the act.[8]

However, that isn’t the most interesting aspect of the case.  We know of these conversations because they were intercepted by American intelligence.[9]  On the one hand, Flynn–a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), had a phone conversation he had every reason to believe would be intercepted.  The National Security Adviser is an idiot.

On the other hand, we know of the intercepts because someone in the intelligence community leaked the information to the press.  For reasons that I, at least, understand, Donald Trump rejected the early findings that the Russians had intervened in the 2016 election.  However, Trump has escalated his fight against the intelligence agencies.  Now they are fighting back by releasing secret information to discredit the president and his advisers.  That’s bad news.

[1] On Debby Logan, see: C. Dallett Hemphill, Philadelphia Stories (forthcoming).  I love you darling.

[2] Apparently NOT “Georgie.”  Go figure.

[3] See:

[4] See:

[5] See:

[6] See:

[7] See:

[8] Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee, “Flynn Discussed Russia Sanctions,” WSJ, 11-12 February 2017.

[9] That is, in all likelihood by the National Security Agency (NSA).