Caught up in a whirlwind of leaked conversations and calls to step down, Justice Minister Sergio Moro sat in front of the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ) of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon to field questions regarding the revelations published by news website The Intercept over in recent weeks.

Amid repeated denials of wrongdoing and calling the veracity and legality of The Intercept‘s leaks into question, Sergio Moro gave little away, with the exception of one exchange with Workers’ Party senator Jaques Wagner.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The opposition senator asked whether Mr. Moro would leave his cabinet office if irregularities in his work on Operation Car Wash were to be found. In a rare occasion of directly answering a question put to him by senators, the Justice Minister confirmed that he would.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;I don&#8217;t have any attachment to the post in itself. If there is some irregularity on my behalf, I&#8217;ll leave,&#8221; he stated.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The hearing came one day after the latest wave of leaked instant messaging conversations between Mr. Moro and Deltan Dallagnol, the lead prosecutor in the Operation Car Wash task force. The most recent revelations showed the former judge questioning a task-force investigation into former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. In the leaked chat, Mr. Moro expressed his concern with targeting Mr. Cardoso, saying it would &#8220;tick off someone whose support is important.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The leak is the latest in a string of material published by </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, which shows Sergio Moro repeatedly collaborating with Mr. Dallagnol and the prosecution team, exchanging advice on the case and giving tips for new lines of investigation, which would constitute a severe breach of ethics in Mr. Moro&#8217;s previous role as a federal judge.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For more details on the case and its </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">possible implications</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, click </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">here</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Or listen to our chat with </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s managing editor, Andrew Fishman)</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>Sergio Moro in the hot seat</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a bid to avoid being forcibly summoned to Congress as part of a parliamentary investigation, Sergio Moro willfully offered to go before the Senate&#8217;s Constitution and Justice Committee and field questions from the panel&#8217;s members and other senators.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an eight and a half hour session, Mr. Moro denied collusion with Deltan Dallagnol and the Car Wash prosecution, reaffirming that it is &#8220;normal&#8221; for judges to speak with the prosecution and defense in the Brazilian court system, and that nothing in the leaked conversations represents any form of illegality.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This was backed up by several judges, relating that conversations between the parts are in fact normal, but the ethical gray area comes in the content of Mr. Moro&#8217;s exchanges, and the one-sidedness of his camaraderie. In the case involving former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who Sergio Moro eventually convicted on grounds of corruption and money laundering, the judge is shown as being disparaging toward the defense, at one point demanding Mr. Dallagnol and his team make a public statement against Lula&#8217;s lawyers&#8217; &#8220;little show.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The hearing also showed Sergio Moro in a purely political light, perhaps for the first time since he entered the public eye. While his previous acts as Justice Minister have been largely behind the scenes, maintaining an aura of impartiality based on his time as a judge, Mr. Moro stood in front of senators on Wednesday as a government agent, with a political purpose.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Tasked with smoothing over the image crisis that came with the leaked conversations, Mr. Moro was successful, often reverting to one of Aesop&#8217;s fables and claiming that &#8220;the mountain had given birth to a mouse,&#8221; suggesting that the scandal fueled by the opposition and </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> had actually turned out to be inconsequential.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While much suspicion remains about the Justice Minister, it would appear that he was largely successful in rallying public opinion to his side. He managed to equate all criticism against him to attempts to silence the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption probe, and he was shown unwavering solidarity from a considerable amount of senators present at the hearing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In real terms, the government left Mr. Moro&#8217;s hearing on a high. Analysis of activity on Twitter showed that the mood surrounding the Bolsonaro administration was overwhelmingly positive this week, reaching its highest levels since the beginning of the year.</span></p> <hr /> <div id="attachment_19517" style="width: 637px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-19517" class="size-full wp-image-19517" src="" alt="bolsonaro twitter" width="627" height="711" srcset=" 627w, 265w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 627px) 100vw, 627px" /><p id="caption-attachment-19517" class="wp-caption-text">Source: Arquimedes, via Piaui</p></div> <hr /> <h2>Machine-gunning the messenger</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Much of Sergio Moro&#8217;s responses on Wednesday were based on discrediting </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, claiming the messages were obtained by an organized group of criminal hackers, and refusing to confirm the veracity of the conversations, strongly hinting that they may have been doctored.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Throughout the session, the Justice Minister referred to </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s coverage as being &#8220;sensationalist&#8221; no less than 52 times—an average of once every ten minutes. The discourse goes along with the government&#8217;s sustained strategy of rubbishing the work of journalistic outlets which are critical toward the administration, and while Mr. Moro did not go as far as labeling </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> as &#8220;fake news,&#8221; his tactic of spreading mistrust about the site and its editorial leanings has served to galvanise President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s supporters.

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PowerJun 20, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.