Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey is a Democrat and former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator.

The writer, of New York, is a former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator.

Delusions fascinate me in part because I have so many of my own. Most often delusions are harmless. Sometimes they are not.

At the moment my fellow Democrats are suffering from two that are harmful. The first is that Americans long for a president who will ask us to pay more for the pleasure of increasing the role of the federal government in our lives. That this is a delusion can be seen in the promises made by six successful Democratic candidates in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan: three governors and three senators. Not one of them supported the Green New Deal, a tax on wealth or “Medicare for all.”

The second Democratic delusion is that Americans were robbed of the truth when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and Attorney General William Barr concluded that President Trump did not collude with Russia in 2016. All evidence indicates that the full report will not change the conclusion that Donald J. Trump did not collude with Vladimir Putin to secure his victory in 2016.

Rather than investigating the president further, Congress needs to investigate how the Department of Justice got this one so wrong. If the president of the United States is vulnerable to prosecutorial abuse, then God help all the rest of us. Members of Congress cannot do this themselves. We do not trust them enough with such a vital mission.

Congress should create a nonpartisan commission to find out what went wrong and to tell us what needs to be done to make certain it never happens again.

A commission to investigate the FBI needs to focus on four questions:

1. Has the law that gave the director of the FBI a 10-year term of office been sufficient to protect the appointee from political pressure to investigate potential crimes of candidates or elected officials? Neither Democratic nor Republican mobs should decide the outcome of our criminal justice system.

2. How can we write clear rules that govern the behavior of the candidate or officeholder? Tweets can and do stoke the fire of the mob. That is what they are intended to do. When the chief law enforcement officer encourages his audience to chant “lock her up,” this signals the FBI to follow the mob. When he sends out tweets that encourage law enforcement to investigate political opponents, this is also mob rule. Rules of acceptable behavior do not apply just to the president but to Congress as well. In the Twitter age, all of us need to understand when our candidate has crossed the line.

3. When is it appropriate for the FBI to begin an investigation? Once started, these things are hard to stop. A single campaign official suggesting the possibility of collusion with a foreign power or a document written as opposition research or a demand from a member of Congress are very thin reeds upon which to challenge the legitimacy of an elected official.

4. Are federal pardons justified? The commission needs the authority to examine whether some Americans were convicted and sentenced because they did not tell the truth about a collusion that never happened. The commission should be given the authority to recommend a pardon for anyone it believes was sentenced unjustly.

Our democracy will survive the hostility of Vladimir Putin. What it may not survive is distrust of our system of justice. At the moment that distrust is deep and wide. We need a nonpartisan national commission to tell us what has just happened and to advise us on what we need to do to keep it from happening again.