Shouting match, charges that 'stupidity is endless,' in second day of trial of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
RIO DE JANEIRO — A trial against Brazil's president turned into a yelling match and was temporarily suspended on Friday after the head of Senate declared "stupidity is endless" and sharply criticized a colleague who had questioned the body's moral authority.
The second day of the trial against President Dilma Rousseff got off to an edgy start when Senate President Renan Calheiros decided to bring up a comment made on Thursday by Sen. Gleisi Hoffmann, a member of Rousseff's Workers' Party.
Hoffmann, who like many in the Senate and lower Chamber of Deputies is being investigated for corruption, had declared that "no one here" had the moral standing to judge Rousseff.
"It can't be that a senator is saying things like this," said Calheiros, who later added: "I am very sad because this session is, above all, a statement that stupidity is endless."
In a bizarre and heated exchange with Hoffmann and other senators, Calheiros said he had asked the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country's highest court, not to raid Hoffmann's home, apparently trying to make the point that federal lawmakers should not be persecuted arbitrarily.
Only the high court can decide to investigate, arrest or prosecute federal lawmakers. Police are investigating whether Hoffmann and her husband received kickbacks from state oil company Petrobras in the form of campaign contributions. They deny wrongdoing.
Calheiro's comments provoked gasps of surprise in the Senate, and are likely to raise questions about his relationship with justices on the high court, who are supposed to be independent.
Soon after the exchange, Calheiros' office released a statement saying that the petitions to the court were routine in nature and reiterated the immunity of senators.
With several senators shouting at once, Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski called for a five minute recess, then changed his mind and said the body would instead return after lunch.
A few hours later, senators returned to the chamber and continued with the proceedings in their usual subdued manner.
Rousseff, in the middle of her second term, is accused of breaking fiscal rules in her management of the federal budget. She denies wrongdoing and argues that her enemies are carrying out a "coup d'état."
Opponents claim that her maneuvers were an attempt to continue high spending and mask deficits, which ultimately exacerbated a severe recession in Latin America's largest economy.
Rousseff and her supporters, however, argue something more nefarious is at play: corrupt lawmakers who want to oust her so they can then water down an investigation into billions of dollars in kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras.
The two-year investigation has led to the jailing of dozens of businessmen and politicians, and threatens to bring down many more. Indeed, both Hoffmann and Calheiros, the senators who argued, are being investigated in probes related to Petrobras. And while senators debated on Friday, federal police announced they were recommending charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Rousseff's predecessor and mentor.
Federal police accuse Silva of having an apartment built for him by a constructor connected to Petrobras. Silva denies the accusations.
On Friday, Rousseff's defense called experts to testify and answer questions, a day after the prosecution dominated Thursday's session.
Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo, an economist, argued that Rousseff had not broken so-called fiscal responsibility laws. He said that instead of hiding government spending, as critics argue, in early 2015 she was coming up with contingency plans to maintain spending in the face of declining revenues.
"Removing President Dilma on these allegations is an attack on democracy," he said.
Several days of debate, including an address by Rousseff on Monday, will culminate in a vote on whether to permanently remove her from office.
The Senate voted in May to impeach and suspend her for up to 180 days while the trial could be prepared.
Vice President Michel Temer took over in May. If Rousseff is removed, Temer will serve the rest of her term through 2018.
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peterprengaman
Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MSavarese