Brazil's Rousseff Makes Final Case to Dismiss Impeachment

  • Attorney general told Congress there's no basis for her ouster
  • VP accused of orchestrating a coup; he denies the allegation

Dilma Rousseff’s legal team on Monday urged Brazil’s Congress to reject the impeachment proceedings that could result in her ouster, as the president stepped up efforts to win support from undecided legislators before voting starts this month.

Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo argued before the lower house committee on impeachment that the process against Rousseff lacks legal basis and ought to be thrown out. He rebutted allegations that she broke the law by taking out loans from state banks to cover up a budget deficit, saying opposition lawmakers were reaching for an excuse to oust their rival.

"You can only remove a president if there is clear, indisputable legal wrongdoing," he said on Monday afternoon. The process under consideration "would be a coup, because this impeachment process -- based on these facts -- goes against the constitution and is an affront to the rule of law."

QuickTake Brazil's Highs and Lows

The committee has now heard final arguments from representatives of the government and opposition, and could make its recommendation on impeachment to the full house next week. If 342 of 513 lawmakers see grounds for her removal, the case goes to the Senate. According to the anti-government group VemPraRua, there are 267 firm votes for and 118 against impeachment in the lower house. A group of Rousseff allies, including members of her Workers’ Party, says there are 123 votes against the president’s ouster.

Monday’s meeting of the impeachment committee began hours before Cardozo arrived, with lawmakers both in favor of and against impeachment raising their voices and accusing each other of trying to carry out a coup. Waiters passed out cups of passion fruit juice and water in the stuffy chamber. One congressman brought the now-famous doll of Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in prison clothes that first appeared in pro-impeachment protests.

Rousseff’s defense is part of a government strategy to discredit efforts to remove her from office. Lula led anti-impeachment rallies over the weekend and accused Vice President Michel Temer of orchestrating a coup by supporting her ouster. The VP denied the allegations.

Cabinet Shuffle

In a separate move to bolster support for her presidency, Rousseff is planning a cabinet shuffle as early as this week, according to a person briefed on the matter. She will reward loyal parties with government posts left behind by the defection of her largest ally, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the person said.

While analysts at political consulting firms including Eurasia Group and Hold Assessoria Legislativa say Rousseff is likely to lose the impeachment process, she has enjoyed some respite in recent days as the focus of the crisis shifted to Temer and the lower house speaker, Eduardo Cunha. The change is muddling scenarios for a possible resolution to the political turmoil.

In a rare front-page editorial published over the weekend, newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo called on both Rousseff and Temer to resign, arguing that the vice president also lacked sufficient popular support to govern. Senator Valdir Raupp, a member of Temer’s party, introduced legislation on Monday to hold new elections in 2016 -- two years ahead of schedule, newspaper Estadao reported.

Meanwhile Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello could rule as early as Monday that speaker Cunha must open an impeachment process against Temer on grounds he authorized spending without authorization from Congress. Temer’s press office said he denies wrongdoing. In a draft decision erroneously published by the court Friday, Mello argued that Cunha had overstepped his constitutional powers by shelving the impeachment request.

Cunha has troubles of his own, as federal police are investigating allegations that he accepted kickbacks on Petrobras contracts. He was cited in a series of reports by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists as one of the politicians who used offshore bank accounts to hide funds, Brazilian news agency UOL reported. Cunha denies any wrongdoing and says there is no proof he owned any account.

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