Last week Senator Kamala Harris verbally pummeled Attorney General William Barr into more or less admitting that Donald Trump has instructed him to open up criminal investigations into Trump’s enemies. As if on cue, Trump announced today that he thinks former Secretary of State John Kerry should be prosecuted for allegedly violating the Logan Act. This is raised a number of eyebrows for obvious reasons.
Here’s the thing about the Logan Act. It forbids United States citizens from negotiating directly with foreign governments, to the detriment of the United States government. It’s been on the books for centuries, but no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for violating it. The Logan Act became a hot topic in the Trump-Russia scandal when it became clear that Michael Flynn and potentially some other members of Donald Trump’s transition team had violated it by negotiating directly with the Kremlin to undermine President Obama’s sanctions.
Flynn cut a cooperating plea deal on a lesser charge before we ever got as far as finding out whether he would have been indicted under the Logan Act. We don’t know if any of Trump’s other people are being investigated or prosecuted under the Logan Act, because the ongoing criminal cases are all redacted from the Mueller report. That brings us to Trump’s assertion today that John Kerry should be prosecuted under the Logan Act for talking with Iran.
The bottom line is that John Kerry did not violate the Logan Act. The question is why Donald Trump is suddenly pushing this notion. Trump and his team have actually floated this about Kerry before, but it predictably went nowhere. Of course now Trump has an Attorney General in William Barr who’s willing to illegally do his corrupt bidding. But now that Barr is being held in contempt of Congress and is facing potential perjury and obstruction charges once Trump is out of power, Barr is going to be playing legal defense for the rest of his tenure and perhaps the rest of his life. Is he really willing to risk making it worse for himself by bringing a phony criminal case against John Kerry that won’t result in a conviction anyway? We’ll see.
Whether Trump and Barr try to do anything to John Kerry, the question again is why Trump is bringing this up now. One possibility would be that, with Robert Mueller tentatively set to testify as soon as next week, and House Democrats fighting to make the entire Mueller report public, Trump fears that the world is about to find out his people violated the Logan Act by conspiring with Russia. We’ve consistently seen Trump try to distract from his own people’s scandals by falsely accusing his adversaries of having the same scandals.
Another possibility is that Donald Trump simply needed a distraction today, because he wants to take the focus off the fact that his Attorney General is being held in contempt of Congress, and his son is being subpoenaed by Congress. When searching for such a distraction, perhaps he settled on John Kerry because he was discussing Iran to begin with. In any case, the bigger story here is what Trump is trying to distract us from, which is that Congress may have finally gained the upper hand against him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report