Sergio Moro: from judge, to minister, to … political pundit?

. Jun 29, 2020
Sergio Moro: from judge, to minister, to ... political pundit? Former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro: Photo: José Cruz/ABr

On April 24, with the coronavirus crisis getting more and more severe by the day, Sergio Moro shocked Brazil’s political world by announcing his resignation from the Justice Ministry — dishing out accusations against President Jair Bolsonaro in the process, claiming he attempted to meddle with the Federal Police in order to protect his friends and relatives from law enforcement. Mr. Moro triggered the biggest political crisis of the administration so far — and many pondered whether Mr. Bolsonaro’s anti-corruption façade would withstand the hit.

Two months later, the Feds are conducting an investigation to determine whether the president stepped out of bounds, but crucially, Mr. Bolsonaro is still standing. His approval ratings remain at around 30 percent — a similar level to before Mr. Moro’s resignation — even if the rate of voters who say the president can never be trusted sits dangerously at 43 percent.

</p> <p>Since losing his high-profile cabinet minister, the president has managed to build a — albeit fragile — congressional coalition for the first time since taking office, thanks to intense horse-trading. Meanwhile, the coronavirus emergency salary established in April is increasing Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="">popularity among poorer voters</a>.</p> <p>On the other hand, Sergio Moro&#8217;s political future is much less clear. For political scientist Carlos Melo, a professor at the São Paulo-based Insper business school, the former Justice Minister left the government as a less consequential figure than when he joined.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Those who were against Mr. Moro, due to his <a href="">track record</a>, have not changed their minds. And his backers were split between staying loyal to him or President Bolsonaro. You can’t say he won by exiting the cabinet the way he did — he actually lost popularity among far-right voters.”</p> <p>As a judge in the sprawling Operation Car Wash investigations, Mr. Moro became the face of the anti-corruption movement in Brazil, playing a crucial part in the imprisonment of the center-left former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But by accepting to join an administration headed by Lula’s political nemesis, he put his credibility on the line. And, according to Mr. Melo, the bet didn&#8217;t pay off. “He failed to outshine Mr. Bolsonaro. The president does not allow any cabinet minister to steal his thunder,” says the political scientist.</p> <p>The former judge and cabinet minister is now in uncharted waters. In an attempt to remain coy about his future, Mr. Moro has hinted toward running for public office in the near future, often saying he “will always be at the country&#8217;s service.” But despite incredible name recognition and the significant possibility of building or joining a presidential candidacy in 2022, Mr. Moro&#8217;s political future is anything but certain.</p> <p>Sergio Moro was arguably the most influential Brazilian of the 2010s. As a judge, he convicted Brazil&#8217;s most popular politician for corruption and money laundering and was <a href="">instrumental in creating the political atmosphere</a> that led to Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment in 2016. But, for the first time in his career, Mr. Moro holds no power at all. He can&#8217;t even launch his career as a lawyer <a href="">before October</a> — as cabinet members must spend a &#8220;quarantine&#8221; period before joining the private sector, during which they still receive their cabinet salary. And many high-profile attorneys want Mr. Moro to be made ineligible to practice law, saying his misdeeds as a judge should force the Bar Association to deny him a license.</p> <p>So, in an attempt to remain relevant, Mr. Moro has turned to political punditry.</p> <h2>Moro trying to influence from the sidelines</h2> <p>&#8220;Nobody likes Sergio Moro, because nobody knows what he thinks about any issue. People fell in love with the <em>idea</em> of what Mr. Moro represents,&#8221; said former presidential candidate Ciro Gomes, taking a jab at the former judge&#8217;s reluctance to state his opinion on any controversial issue. That could soon change.</p> <p>On June 20, Mr. Moro made his debut as a political commentator at online magazine Crusoé. His op-ed pieces will be put out every two weeks — but the Federal Accounts Court will rule if that complies with the mandatory quarantine.</p> <p>“The Brazilian Armed Forces have built their history and deserve recognition. However, there is no place for an unusual ‘constitutional military intervention’ to resolve the conflict between the branches of power,” wrote Mr. Moro, in an unmistakable shot at his former boss, who <a href="">on multiple occasions</a> has hinted toward a possible coup d&#8217;état. The article was not well received among groups of voters who compared him to a superhero just a few months ago. As a matter of fact, a teaser of his first text got over <a href="">322,000 dislikes on YouTube</a> — to only 41,000 likes.</p> <p>“Faithful Bolsonarists do not miss Mr. Moro, and think the president was within his rights [to interfere with the Feds]. The government has lost support among Operation Car Wash supporters, but the hard-core of Bolsonarism remains unchanged,” ponders Mr. Melo.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="682" src="" alt="Sergio Moro: from judge, to minister, to ... political pundit?" class="wp-image-43541" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 610w, 1871w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>&#8220;Moro lies,&#8221; reads poster at the University of São Paulo. Photos: Roberto Parizotti/FP</figcaption></figure> <h2>Car Wash crusaders and the opposition to Jair Bolsonaro</h2> <p>As the president grows isolated, many groups — from the far-left to the hard right — have banded together to form &#8220;broad anti-Bolsonaro coalitions.&#8221; But while old foes try to bury the hatchet in the name of fighting a common enemy, many groups do not want Mr. Moro on their side.&nbsp;</p> <p>One group called &#8220;We Are Together,&#8221; for instance, made it clear that &#8216;together&#8217; means everyone not on Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s side … except for Sergio Moro. &#8220;Everyone is welcome, except fascists. [Mr.] Moro is out! That&#8217;s the line in the sand,&#8221; said sports journalist Juca Kfouri, one of the signatories.</p> <p>The same happened with a live broadcast that tried to present itself as a broad effort against the administration. Organizers wanted the event to be a coronavirus version of a famous <a href="">1984 rally</a> calling for direct presidential elections — which united many political adversaries under the common goal of restoring democracy in Brazil. They too were wary of Mr. Moro. An invitation to the judge was debated —&nbsp;but Mr. Moro is persona non grata for too many political actors. Ultimately, he was <a href="">left out</a> of it altogether.</p> <p>Operation Car Wash dramatically changed national politics in Brazil, tarnishing the reputations of all mainstream parties and fueling distrust towards the political establishment — opening space for outsiders such as Jair Bolsonaro. If Mr. Moro’s resignation did not open a crack within Bolsonarism, the challenge for the former judge in his political career is to reunite people around an anti-corruption message.</p> <p>“Car Wash supporters exist. Yes, there is a club that supports prosecutors above all other political actors. You can’t tell how many there are now, but this anti-corruption narrative is still led by Sergio Moro and the Car Wash team. Bolsonaro tried to hold on to that banner, but he cannot for two reasons: his sons face multiple investigations — and the administration has celebrated an alliance with traditional parties that operate based on pork barrelling,” Mr. Melo told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>If Mr. Moro wants to run in the 2022 election, he needs to find a party until March 2022. Many political groups would welcome him with open arms — but perhaps not those who defend the values Mr. Moro claims to believe in.

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José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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