Val Demings Says House Impeachment Managers 'Made Our Case'

Feb 8, 2020

President Trump celebrated his acquittal this week by lashing out at political rivals and firing two officials who testified before impeachment investigators about his involvement in the Ukraine scandal.

Trump's acquittal in the Senate on Wednesday was never truly in doubt. And with one poll this week showing Trump with the highest approval rating of his presidency, Democrats have been left to answer whether impeachment was worth the political cost.

That includes Rep. Val Demings of Florida, one of the seven impeachment managers who argued the case against the president during his trial in the Senate.

"Was it worth it? Every day it has been worth it," she told NPR in an interview from her Capitol Hill office on Friday.

Demings called the Senate's vote to acquit the president "disappointing," but drawing an analogy from her prior career in law enforcement, she says Democrats had an obligation to pursue the case regardless of the outcome.

"The House managers were the defenders of the Constitution," she says. "And just like when I was a law enforcement officer, when I saw someone breaking the law, I did not stop and think about, well, my goodness, what will the judge do? What will the jury do down the road? I did my job to stop that threat and then go to court and plead my case."

In the end, Democrats managed to win just one Republican vote. That came when Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced he would defy his party and vote to convict Trump on one of the two articles of impeachment that he faced: abuse of power.

"We presented our case. We made our case. The senators chose to not hold the president accountable for whatever reason," says Demings. "Had we not proved our case," she adds, "there is no way that Mitt Romney would have voted guilty against the president."

The path ahead for Democrats

The question now for Democrats is what's next. The lead impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told NPR this week that no decisions have been made about whether House Democrats will continue to investigate President Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

One potential witness is John Bolton. The former national security adviser had offered to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed, but Democrats were unable to garner enough votes to secure his testimony. All but two Republicans — Romney and Susan Collins of Maine — voted against a motion to hear new witness testimony. That vote came despite a New York Times report that in an unpublished manuscript, Bolton wrote that Trump had told him he wanted to continue withholding security aid for Ukraine until the government there agreed to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.

When asked why House Democrats didn't subpoena Bolton themselves, Demings turned the focus back on the Senate.

"The Senate had this opportunity that [Bolton] said, 'I want to come and testify before you and you only. Call me, I'm ready.' And the Senate chose not to do that. They don't get a — there are some that might want to give them a pass, because like I said, there is this double standard out there, but I'm not giving them a pass."

"We were right to move forward," she says of the House decision not to subpoena Bolton. But Demings, who sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, says any decision about whether to subpoena Bolton in the days ahead "will not be made at my pay grade."

Challenge coins from various law enforcement agencies sit in Rep. Val Demings' office. Students at the FBI National Academy receive the yellow brick after completing a grueling fitness challenge.
Kisha Ravi / NPR

Enforcing the law

Demings' long career in law enforcement is evident when she speaks. "I have seen the effects of good government and good leaders, and I've seen the effects of bad government and bad leaders," she says. Police memorabilia adorn her office, along with photos of Demings and her husband, Jerry Demings, both in uniform.

Demings worked for the Orlando Police Department for 27 years, in several departments. She worked as an internal affairs commander, investigating police officers. She also served as a patrol officer and detective. In 2007, she was appointed as Orlando's first female chief of police.

Her work putting criminal cases together as a cop is why she thinks Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., chose her to be the only non-lawyer on the House impeachment manager team.

"I think those real-life experiences in what I think was a tougher arena, building criminal cases, I think the speaker wanted that and needed that as a part of the team," she says.

Being a part of that team may put her in the crosshairs in November. Florida state Sen. Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, wrote this week that Floridians "won't forget Demings' role in this unfortunate chapter of history, and America won't forget the Democrats' cynical witch hunt at the ballot box in November."

Demings' district, which includes parts of Orlando and surrounding areas, is considered a safe seat for Democrats. She emphasizes that the prospect of being targeted doesn't faze her.

"I grew up poor black and female in the South and I worked as a law enforcement officer. I mean, I've been targeted before because we are always targeted. And look, I am a woman of faith. And I know that God is on my side. And I don't fear any man because that's what the Scripture says. I'm used to being targeted. I will continue to do the best job that I can do for the people that I represent. And the people in my district will decide."

Demings also talks about the experience as bigger than just a single election.

"Fifty years from now when, I think, all of the impeachment managers will be dead and gone, I do believe that history will look back and smile upon the defenders of the Constitution and the form of government that the framers had in mind. And that makes me pretty proud."

NPR's Janaya Williams and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we said earlier, critics are calling yesterday's shakeup at the National Security Council part of a campaign of revenge by President Trump for the impeachment inquiry. The president hasn't made a secret of his fury about the long inquiry, which ended with his acquittal after a grueling three-week trial. So now we want to go to a key figure in that trial, House impeachment manager Val Demings, a Florida Democrat elected in 2016.

Before that, she served nearly three decades in the police force in Orlando, including a stint as the department's first female chief. We wanted to hear what it was like to be part of this historic moment and also get her sense on what she'd like to see next. We started our conversation in her Capitol Hill office by asking her if she thinks impeachment was worth it.

VAL DEMINGS: Totally worth it. You know, this whole process helped me to see that the House managers were the defenders of the Constitution. And just like when I was a law enforcement officer, when I saw someone breaking the law, I did not stop and think about, well, my goodness, what will the judge do, or what will the jury do down the road?

So we didn't start the story at the end of the story. We started the story at the beginning of the story, and that was with the president's blatant disregard for the law the Constitution - his abuse of power - and then his effort to obstruct any attempt to provide oversight or investigate his wrongdoing. Was it worth it? Every day it has been worth it.

MARTIN: How so, though?

DEMINGS: Because we did our job to hold the president accountable like we hold John Smith and Mary Smith accountable every day and across this nation for wrongdoing.

MARTIN: But how is he held accountable? Because, as I understand the way you're framing this, you felt you and the other members of the House felt it was necessary to act, to intervene in wrongdoing.

DEMINGS: That's right.

MARTIN: But the wrongdoing had already occurred, and the consequence was not achieved.

DEMINGS: So if the bank's already robbed, do we send the - and the suspect's caught, and he gives the money back, should we let him go? We are a nation of laws. Everybody counts, but everybody's held accountable.

And so we were not going to turn a blind eye as an equal branch of government that has apparently worked pretty well until we elected a president who has no regard for the rule of law, no respect for equal branches of government. Everybody knows that the evidence against the president was overwhelming. We presented our case. We made our case. The senators chose to not hold the president accountable for whatever reason.

MARTIN: I mean, one of the points that Jay Sekulow, one of the president's defense team, made is that so many people had declared themselves before the trial even started saying that the president needed to be impeached. Now, recognizing that this is not a criminal trial - but if it had been a criminal trial, people who had declared such strong opinions would not have been able to serve. I mean, even recognizing the difference, do you think in hindsight that it was a mistake...

DEMINGS: No.

MARTIN: ...For so many Democrats to come out...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Let me finish my question - in advance saying that this president needed to be impeached, including, as I understand...

DEMINGS: There are 435 of us, and there were several GOP - members of the GOP who came out in advance saying the president did it. So - and that's the other thing that I think is so interesting about this whole process. There seems to be two standards, right? And the person who is out of control the most gets a pass. And those of us who are expressing our opinions based on our beliefs or what we see right in front of us are held accountable.

And so for members who were right there, they had that right to based on what they saw, just like members of the GOP. But we don't talk about them - members of the GOP who said there's nothing to see here before the Mueller report came out when they were looking at nothing to make that decision. And so let's talk - we're going to - let's give equal time, right? There were members who cleared the president without any basis for doing that as well.

MARTIN: Are there still witnesses that you would like to hear from? Do you think that the House should subpoena John Bolton, for example?

DEMINGS: Well...

MARTIN: And are there other people that you want to hear from you have not yet heard from?

DEMINGS: Let me start here. That decision will not be made at my pay grade. I'm sure the leadership, the House leadership, will get together, review everything and made the decision whether the House wants to subpoena him or not.

MARTIN: Surely you have an opinion.

DEMINGS: I would love to hear what John Bolton had to say, and I was ready to listen to what he had to say in the U.S. Senate. The Senate chose not to listen to what he had to say.

MARTIN: So, going forward here, what do you think should happen? I mean, what do you think the moment requires?

DEMINGS: What I think - what should have happened was that when members of the administration received lawful subpoenas that the president should have done what presidents have done in the past, and that's to see Congress as an equal branch of government and allow his - members of his administration and certainly those who were not to come and give testimony before Congress so that we could provide the necessary oversight.

MARTIN: But he didn't, so what is the House going to do, what is Congress going to do to reassert its role?

DEMINGS: I won't guess about that because I'm still stuck on the blanket unlawful order that was given by the president to obstruct any investigation into his wrongdoing.

MARTIN: And then the politics of it - the head of the Florida Republican Party suggested that the Republican Party is going to target you. I mean, in a column in Florida today, he wrote that Florida won't forget Demings' role in this unfortunate chapter of history. He goes on. But the suggestion, the strong suggestion is that your seat is going to be targeted.

DEMINGS: I'm used to being targeted. I will continue to do the best job that I can do for the people that I represent. And the people in my district will decide, just like they were going to decide before the impeachment trial, right? The power to be here and the power to stay here is in the hands of the people. And I feel sorry for the Republican leader who believes that all power is in his hands, just like the president believes. The power rests with the people.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, what do you think you're going to remember most about this whole experience?

DEMINGS: I think one of the most powerful moments during the whole process was when we were walking the articles of impeachment over to the House Senate side. It was one of the most solemn moments. It was like the weight of the world was on our shoulders. We were going into a place that we did not want to go. But we had to.

And so, you know, 50 years from now, when all of the impeachment managers will be dead and gone, I do believe that history will look back and smile upon the defenders of the Constitution and the form of government that the framers had in mind. And that makes me pretty proud.

MARTIN: Congresswoman Val Demings, thank you so much for talking with us today.

DEMINGS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "RAPPAHANNOCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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