A political crisis in Brazil is growing in the wake of The Intercept’s investigation into a judge who likely aided federal prosecutors in their corruption case against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Bolsonaro administration announced Monday that Brazilian Justice Minister Sérgio Moro has been granted a leave of absence from July 15-19 to “deal with personal matters.” Leaked cellphone messages among Brazilian law enforcement officials and other data obtained by The Intercept point to an ongoing collaboration between then-Judge Sérgio Moro and the prosecutors investigating a sweeping corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash. Lula was considered a favorite in the lead-up to the 2018 presidential election until he was put in jail and forced out of the race on what many say were trumped-up corruption charges. The leaked documents also reveal prosecutors had serious doubts about Lula’s guilt. The jailing of Lula helped pave the way for the election of the far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, who then named Judge Sérgio Moro to be his justice minister. The news of Moro’s leave of absence comes amid increased calls for him to step down after new revelations of Moro’s questionable role in Operation Car Wash were published in Brazil’s leading conservative magazine, Veja, in partnership with The Intercept. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Greenwald has faced death threats and a possible government investigation due to his reporting on the scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the growing political crisis in Brazil in the wake of The Intercept’s investigation into a judge who likely aided federal prosecutors in their corruption case against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The Bolsonaro administration announced Monday that Brazilian Justice Minister Sérgio Moro has been granted a leave of absence from July 15 to 19 to, quote, “deal with personal matters.” Leaked cellphone messages among Brazilian law enforcement officials and other data obtained by The Intercept point to an ongoing collaboration between then-Judge Sérgio Moro and the prosecutors investigating a sweeping corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash.
Lula was considered a favorite in the lead-up to the 2018 presidential election until he was put in jail and forced out of the race on what many say were trumped-up corruption charges. The leaked documents also reveal prosecutors had serious doubts about Lula’s guilt. The jailing of Lula helped pave the way for the election of the far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, who then named Judge Sérgio Moro to be his justice minister.
AMY GOODMAN: The news of Judge Sérgio Moro’s leave of absence comes amidst increased calls for Moro to step down, after new revelations of irregularities were published in Brazil’s leading conservative magazine. The publication, in partnership with The Intercept, released new details into the extent of Moro’s corruption. The publication had been one of Moro’s chief supporters, but editors say the eight-page cover story, quote, “reveals how Moro abused his judicial function as part of a cabal, commanding the actions of the prosecutors of Car Wash.” The publication goes on to say, “The communications analyzed by the Veja reporting team are true and the story shows that the case is even more grave than previously known.” The cover shows Moro appearing to place a finger on a scale, with the line, “Exclusive: Justice with His Own Hands: New chats show that Sérgio Moro committed irregularities, disturbing the scales of justice in favor of the prosecution in the Car Wash investigation.”
For more, we go to Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Glenn has faced death threats and a possible government investigation due to his reporting on the scandal.
Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about these latest revelations and then the threats you face.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, the latest revelation was, as you noted, this cover story in the largest and most influential newsweekly in Brazil, which is Veja. It’s sort of like the Time magazine of Brazil, except that it’s center-right or even right-wing. And that’s what made that story so significant, was, as the editors themselves admitted—and they did the story in partnership with us—they had spent four or five years believing the myth of Sérgio Moro, that he was this incredibly ethical figure who was combating corruption without regard to ideology or party, and doing so in order to clean up Brazil and strengthen and fortify its democracy. They believed that myth and played a leading role in helping to construct it by repeatedly putting him on their cover. The covers of these weekly magazines are incredibly influential, because people even who don’t read political magazines see it. It’s on every corner. It’s what helped dirty and destroy the reputation of Dilma and Lula, were these magazine covers. And they did the opposite to Sérgio Moro: They built him into this myth.
And so, these editors, when we began working with them on this archive, and they began reading what we’ve been reading over the last six weeks or seven weeks since we got this material, were not just shocked, but really angered. They were betrayed that this person, that they had really thought was this ethical, clean judge, committed to principles of democracy, was, in fact, not just on occasion, not just in sporadic and isolated episodes, but continuously corrupt in how he was conducting himself and abusing his power as a judge.
And I think that’s the most important thing to realize, is it’s not just Lula’s case; it’s the entire operation of Lava Jato, of Car Wash, that put so many people, dozens of people, in jail, was fundamentally corrupted, because the whole time, in secret, the judge who was presiding over the case, who is now the most powerful person in Brazil, even more powerful than the president, was engaged in corruption so shocking and severe that even the right-wing magazine that had been his biggest supporter has turned on him and is now in partnership with The Intercept Brasil to do a series of exposés on their cover, uncovering and unmasking this person who was celebrated not just in Brazil, but around the world, as the paragon of ethics, but who in fact was deeply corrupt.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Glenn, last week, Sérgio Moro testified for seven hours before Brazil’s Congress and defended his actions and tried to rebut your exposé. Could you talk about what happened? Because the Congress nearly—some members of Congress nearly came to blows at one point?
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, it’s been this kind of cat-and-mouse game. Sérgio Moro first went to the Senate. I then went to the Congress and testified for six-and-a-half hours. He then went to the Congress, that same committee, and testified for seven hours. And I’m now going to the Senate committee on Thursday, where I’ll likely testify for many hours in the wake of his testimony.
And while he was there, one of the—that day, news had broken that the Federal Police, which is under the command of Sérgio Moro as justice minister, very similar to how the FBI is under the command of the attorney general, had initiated—has initiated an investigation into my finances. There’s a division of the Brazilian government called COAF, which is designed to detect and monitor the movements of money of politicians and their families to see if there’s bribery going on or the like. And since my husband is a member of Congress, I fall under the purview of that agency. And the Federal Police, commanded by Sérgio Moro, has asked for all the reports of my financial activities—coincidentally, after living 15 years in Brazil, suddenly as I’m doing this reporting.
And so, that hearing that he was at before Congress is very tense for a lot of reasons. The Veja article had just come out. But also, people were indignant that he’s so blatantly abusing the police power to retaliate against me for the crime, in his mind, of reporting on his corruption. And after seven hours of testimony—he was scheduled to go another two or three hours—a member of the opposition declared him to be a thief judge, a judge who’s a thief. And the members of Bolsonaro’s party, being the authoritarians and fascists that they are, tried physically attacking that member of Congress, and they came very close to a physical confrontation. And the judge, or the minister, Moro, had to be rushed out in order to protect his own security. That’s how intense the outburst was. And it kind of gives you a sense for what the climate here in Brazil is as a result of the reporting that we’re doing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, the potential impact on Lula still being in prison, as a result of the continued exposés about the railroading that he went through as a result of Moro’s activities?
GLENN GREENWALD: So, obviously, the imprisonment of Lula was incredibly controversial, both because he was leading the presidential polls by 20 to 25 points, 15 points, at the time that he was convicted by Judge Moro and rendered ineligible, when an appellate court, with strange speed, affirmed that conviction, which is what led to Bolsonaro’s victory in the first place.
So, the question now becomes—there’s pending cases that Lula has brought, alleging that his process is unjust. Obviously, the Supreme Court is taking a close look at the reporting that we’re doing, and, in fact, last week, issued a decision, 3 to 2, denying Lula’s release, or petition to be released from prison, but explicitly saying that they intend to revisit this, pending further revelations by The Intercept. So, obviously, the reporting that we’re doing about the corruption, intrinsic, endemic to this process as a result of Sérgio Moro’s misconduct, is putting in doubt all of the verdicts that he issued.
I mean, imagine in the United States if a judge, even in a traffic court case, got caught secretly collaborating with prosecutors and encouraging them and instructing them about how to prosecute the case. Of course it would be unimaginable that that judge would continue in office or their verdicts would be upheld. That’s the same situation that Brazil now faces. The problem is, is it’s causing a political earthquake, because the cases where Judge Moro was corrupt had such profound consequences for Brazil and for—even for politics internationally, that to now have to confront the reality that it was all the byproduct of a corrupt process is really, really cataclysmic.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Glenn, the death threats that you are receiving now? Can you describe the threat you’re under?
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, you know, I think one of the things that people outside Brazil don’t realize is that Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right movement is not quite like, say, the right-wing movement that brought Trump into office or that has ushered in this new extremist right in Western Europe, which tends to focus more on fearmongering and demonization over Muslims and immigrants. A big part of Jair Bolsonaro’s movement has been demonizing and stigmatizing LGBTs, claiming that we are pedophiles who want to convert people’s children, really stimulating huge, intense levels of hatred. The only LGBT member of Congress prior to 2018 fled the country under really, really serious and specific death threats. My husband then took his place. Ironically, he was next in line in the election and is also, of course, openly gay.
And the threats we’ve been getting are not the kind of death threats that you get when you’re a public official every day—people just write you a quick note on the internet, saying, “I hope you die,” or “You deserve to be killed.” They’re death threats that include our very personal data, our Social Security-equivalent number, sometimes our address—information that only people in official positions could acquire. They’re very graphic and directed at our children, at our family and at us personally. They’re the kind of threats that, obviously, a lot of thought goes into and a lot of resources are behind.
And that’s why we take them very seriously and have been turning them over to the Federal Police. Unfortunately, that Federal Police is commanded by Sérgio Moro, who, as our reporting demonstrates, is willing to cross every line and break every law in order to achieve whatever ends he deems just. And so, our confidence in their ability or their willingness to investigate those threats is not very high.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, we wish you all safety and security. Do you think this price is worth it, the work that you’re doing?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you go into journalism, this is the kind of thing you do. Journalists all over the war are covering wars; they’re killed covering wars. There are journalists who work without the visibility that I have, uncovering corruption by police forces in small towns, and are threatened or even killed. This is the kind of risk that you take on if you want to be not just a journalist, but the kind of journalist that confronts power. So, of course, the risks aren’t fun, but at the same time it’s very gratifying to feel like you’re using the guarantee of a free press for what it’s for, which is shining a light on the corrupt acts carried out in the dark by the society’s most powerful actors.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, we want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, recently published “Secret Brazil Archive,” three-part exposé revealing the judge overseeing the case that put Lula in prison likely aided federal prosecutors in their corruption cases against him and other high-profile figures. Please be safe.
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