It will take more than accusations to bring down Bolsonaro

. May 13, 2020
Former Justice Minister: accusations alone won't bring down Bolsonaro Former Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

Politicians and pundits in Brasilia are on high alert this week, as a series of key political figures provide testimony in the Supreme Court investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro. Accused of attempted to meddle in the Federal Police, Mr. Bolsonaro allegedly tried to appoint a friendly face to the head of the corporation, someone from whom he could obtain information about confidential police probes. According to lawyer José Eduardo Cardozo, the accusations alone — made by ex-Justice Minister Sergio Moro upon his resignation — prove nothing, but in the context, they demonstrate a “degenerate and illegal” attempt at political interference in the Federal Police, on behalf of President Bolsonaro. Mr. Cardozo served as Justice Minister himself, during ex-President Dilma Rousseff’s first term, before becoming Solicitor General. He defended Ms. Rousseff during the impeachment trial that removed her from office in 2016.

Mr. Cardozo spoke with The Brazilian Report for an exclusive interview this week.

</p> <p><strong>Sergio Moro accused President Bolsonaro of meddling in the appointment of the Federal Chief of Police. Could this be construed as political interference?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Sergio Moro&#8217;s accusation in itself does not reveal any evidence, as it is just his word. What proves this attempt at political interference is that President Jair Bolsonaro ended up confirming Mr. Moro&#8217;s statements during a subsequent press conference. Mr. Bolsonaro makes it clear that he wanted the Federal Police to conduct investigations that he directed. The president himself says he had to get down on his knees and beg investigators to shield his son.&nbsp;</p><p>The president also questions alleged differences in the investigations over the <a href="">stabbing attack that he suffered in 2018</a> and the assassination of <a href="">city councilor Marielle Franco</a>. This information, the messages sent to Mr. Moro by Mr. Bolsonaro and congresswoman Carla Zambelli, and the proximity between police detective <a href="">Alexandre Ramagem</a> and the Bolsonaro family show that the president intended to carry out a degenerate and illegal political interference in the Federal Police.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>The president also complained about the lack of information from the Federal Police.</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Intelligence reports by the Federal Police have two distinct objectives. There are reports with general analyses about public security and federal crimes, these are available to the president via the Brazilian Intelligence Agency. There are also reports on investigations that are confidential, and the president has no access to those.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Was the proximity between police detective Alexandre Ramagem and the president&#8217;s family enough of an argument to prevent him from being appointed Federal Police Chief?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>No. The problem is the context. For example, I am a friend of [ex-President] Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s, but that did not prevent me from being an honorable appointment as Justice Minister. The criterion of trust is obvious. The problem is when you try to use someone you trust for an illegal, illicit, and immoral purpose. Mr. Bolsonaro chose someone close to his sons, who are under investigation, in order to guide investigations and obtain classified information. This set of situations defines the misuse of office that underpinned Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes&#8217; decision to block Mr. Ramagem&#8217;s appointment.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Justice Alexandre de Moraes&#8217; decision was criticized, mainly for the argument of undue interference by the Supreme Court in what is an exclusive prerogative of the Executive branch. What do you think of this argument?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It is a mistaken view. The theory of misuse of office has been enshrined in Brazilian courts for decades. It is nothing new. I do not see any interference [on behalf of the Supreme Court], any administrative act can be questioned by the Judiciary.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>But one of the critics of this involvement of the Judiciary was former President Lula, who himself was blocked from becoming former President Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s Chief of Staff in 2016.&nbsp;</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Ex-President Lula has every right to make whatever political assessment he wishes. I also saw respectable lawyers holding a similar opinion. But the fact that former President Lula has an opinion, as well as other legal scholars, does not mean that I should follow them when I have taught my students otherwise for decades. Everybody has the right to an opinion.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Mr. Moro stated that his predecessors were pressured to interfere in the Federal Police. Did you suffer any such coercion when you were Justice Minister?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The president never put any pressure on me. I had an advantage over Sergio Moro because Ms. Rousseff always respected the law. She only requested investigations when there were reports of the Federal Police overstepping its bounds. But I suffered a lot of criticism. My allies said that I did not control the Federal Police. They said that they know how these things work. My opponents said that I used the Federal Police to hound them. I told them to make up their minds because the criticism was schizophrenic. Either I do not control the Federal Police or I am in full charge of it.</p></blockquote> <p><em>[A source who worked at the Ministry of Justice during Mr. Cardozo’s administration told </em><strong><em>The Brazilian Report</em></strong><em> that the then-minister was pressured by former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is now in prison for corruption. In the conversation, Mr. Cunha said that Mr. Cardozo would lose his position if he did not interfere in Federal Police investigations that targeted Mr. Cunha.]</em></p> <p><strong>At a press conference, Mr. Bolsonaro said he would ask the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office to defend him in court against Mr. Moro accusations. Is this legal?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>In principle, the law allows the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office to defend the president. But this case does not involve a legal act of the government, but the appointment of Mr. Ramagem. Regarding the misuse of power in this act, Mr. Bolsonaro has every right to be represented by the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>If it is proven that Mr. Bolsonaro committed crimes and that these acts are unrelated to the presidency, would the Solicitor General still be able to represent him?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>In acts unrelated to presidential duties, his defense would have to be conducted by a private attorney. We faced this same discussion during Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment. Mr. Bolsonaro said at the time that the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office could not defend Ms. Rousseff. But now he has changed his mind. Unlike Mr. Bolsonaro, who will use a prerogative he criticized in the past, I am consistent.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>During his testimony, Sergio Moro produced a message sent by Mr. Bolsonaro saying, &#8220;Moro, you have 27 superintendencies. I only want one, Rio de Janeiro.&#8221; Would this phrase prove the political interference in the Federal Police?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The phrase alone means nothing. But in the context surrounding Mr. Moro&#8217;s accusations, the president&#8217;s messages and Mr. Bolsonaro statements at a subsequent press conference turn this phrase into a demonstration of misuse of power.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Why is Mr. Bolsonaro so fixated with the Federal Police department in Rio de Janeiro?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I do not like to judge on conviction, only on evidence. But my belief is that Mr. Bolsonaro intends to prevent the progress of something.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Mr. Moro stated that he warned Mr. Bolsonaro about some Federal Police operations and that this has always been a common practice among his predecessors. Was it? Wouldn&#8217;t warning the president about operations itself be a crime, committed by Mr. Moro?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The Justice Minister can be warned about sensitive operations when these operations are launched, and the minister in turn warns the president. This practice guarantees confidentiality and that the minister is not held responsible if a leak of information occurs. I have already been informed about sensitive operations and have passed them on to the president.</p><p>The chance of being warned before the operation begins occurs only if the Justice Minister has to intervene. If Mr. Moro had informed President Bolsonaro before operations were launched, we would then discuss a breach of confidentiality, and it would be necessary to verify the person responsible for the situation.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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