Krishnamoorthi's front-seat role in national politics' tumultuous spring

 
 
Updated 4/28/2019 7:15 AM
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  • In this screen grab from Washington Post video, Michael Cohen answers questions from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi during hearings in Washington on Feb. 27.

    In this screen grab from Washington Post video, Michael Cohen answers questions from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi during hearings in Washington on Feb. 27.

  • U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, shown in his Schaumburg office, has a firsthand view of this year's political drama as a member of both the House Oversight and Intelligence committees.

      U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, shown in his Schaumburg office, has a firsthand view of this year's political drama as a member of both the House Oversight and Intelligence committees. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Schaumburg Democrat, participates at a hearing in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

    U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Schaumburg Democrat, participates at a hearing in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Courtesy of Raja Krishnamoorthi

It's Dec. 9, and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is assessing James Comey's testimony to Congress on Fox News, saying the former FBI director "came across as consistent, compelling and careful in his answers."

"We estimate he answered almost 1,000 questions in total, so his batting average was between .700 and .800," Krishnamoorthi told interviewer Maria Bartiromo. "As a Cubs fan, I think that's pretty good," he said, drawing a laugh from Bartiromo, host of "Sunday Morning Futures."

Fast forward to April 1, and Krishnamoorthi's a guest on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," chatting about security clearance issues at the White House.

He uses another baseball analogy, then says, "Believe it or not, they stopped doing credit checks as part of this process."

In just two years, the 46-year-old Schaumburg Democrat has become a regular on national TV news across the political spectrum.

"I think he may be one of the few representatives to have been on both Rachel Maddow's and Laura Ingraham's shows multiple times," spokesman Wilson Baldwin said.

"It is surreal," Krishnamoorthi said Thursday of the Washington whirlwind from his Schaumburg office overlooking the Woodfield Mall. "I've come in at a time when we are facing a test of our democracy."

The crucible of Donald Trump's tumultuous presidency has turned normally ho-hum hearings, legislation and procedures into high drama.

As a member of both the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Krishnamoorthi's been privy to juicy testimony from the likes of Comey and Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen.

That has catapulted Krishnamoorthi from little-known suburban lawmaker to a regular commentator on Fox, CNN, MSNBC and other media. And in February, he played a central role in the political theater du jour.

When former Trump attorney Cohen testified before the oversight committee Feb. 27, "I got up at 4 a.m. that morning and read everything I possibly could" in background material, Krishnamoorthi said.

He walked through packed halls at the Rayburn Building to the hearing room, waited his turn and asked Cohen about his final conversation with Trump. "What did (the president) or his agent communicate to you?"

"Unfortunately, this topic is being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York," Cohen said, adding authorities asked him not to discuss it.

"Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act regarding Donald Trump we haven't yet discussed today?" Krishnamoorthi pursued.

Cohen testified "yes," noting the Southern District of New York was investigating that as well.

The brief exchange went viral across the nation and world, including in India, where members of Krishnamoorthi's extended family were watching.

"Indians are known for giving advice," Krishnamoorthi said, grinning. Media tips from his relatives have included, "'Raja, sit up straight.' 'Look at the camera this way or that way.' 'You're not sleeping enough.' 'You're not eating enough,'" he recounted.

His preparation for Cohen is typical of how he handles media interviews. "When I am correct, I feel confident," he said.

The Democrat sets no particular ground rules for interviewers across the spectrum from MSNBC to Fox, though for the latter "he may be bracing for something more contentious, depending on the topic," Baldwin said.

Krishnamoorthi, first elected in 2016 to succeed Tammy Duckworth as she sought and won a U.S. Senate seat, was given the coveted intelligence committee assignment by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Krishnamoorthi, a former Illinois special assistant attorney general, made the request last fall, pointing to his experience on oversight.

His view on impeachment parallels Pelosi's.

While some Democrats are pressuring the speaker to launch impeachment proceedings, Krishnamoorthi supports continuing the investigation by obtaining the unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election and having Mueller testify before Congress.

Meanwhile, there's friction between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats after the White House ordered numerous officials not to testify before congressional committees.

After reviewing centuries-old cases, "the Supreme Court ... has explicitly said Congress has the power to investigate and the power to hold people in contempt who do not comply with subpoenas," Krishnamoorthi said.

"If the president intends to challenge these powers, we will have to see him in court."

Outside the Beltway, Krishnamoorthi said he's anchored by his constituents and family: wife Priya, a physician, his sons Vikram, 13, and Vijay, 9, and daughter Sonia, who turns 3 in May.

Wrangling children made him "ready for Congress," Krishnamoorthi said. "The only problem is you can't put anyone in time out."

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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