More than 240,000 people want the 47 Republican senators who signed an open letter penned by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) to Iran’s leaders threatening that any nuclear deal they make with the Obama administration won’t last past his tenure tried for treason.
The petition on whitehouse.gov, created by C.H. from Bogota, New Jersey, calls for charges to be filed against the senators for an alleged violation of the Logan Act that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
The petition has been signed by more than 240,000 people in three days, and sparked a trending hashtag: #47Traitors.
“At a time when the United States government is attempting to reach a potential nuclear agreement with the Iranian government, 47 Senators saw fit to instead issue a condescending letter to the Iranian government stating that any agreement brokered by our President would not be upheld once the president leaves office,” the petition reads in part.
The Logan Act was enacted in 1799 and revised in 1994. A violation of the Logan Act is considered a felony offense with a punishment of a fine and/or up to three years imprisonment, reports The Daily Dot. The law states:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Jerome Barron, a professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University, told ABC News in an interview that he does find the senators’ letter “disrespectful,” but he does not think they have committed treason.
“They would make the argument the Logan Act doesn’t apply because they are one of the three branches of government and although the they don’t have the major role of foreign relations, they do, after all, as the senate, confirm treaties,” Barron said. “It’s true this is an executive agreement, but they [the Senate] have some role I suppose. I don’t think they’re in violation of the Logan Act.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest referred questions on whether the senators potentially violated the Logan Act to the Department of Justice.
“For a determination like that, I'd refer you to the Department of Justice. It ultimately would be their responsibility to make that kind of determination,” Earnest said. “I know that there's been a lot of speculation about this, but I'm not aware of any conversations about the Logan Act in its relation to this specific matter that have taken place here at the White House.”
There has never been a prosecution under the Logan Act, and only one person has ever been indicted under it: a Kentucky farmer in 1803.
Because the petition has exceeded 100,000 signatures within 30 days, a response from the White House is required.