RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil's attorney general on Monday blasted impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff as illegal, calling them no more than an attempted coup motivated by a thirst for vengeance by foes of the unpopular leader.
In an impassioned defense before the lower house of Congress' impeachment committee, Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Brazilian law allows impeachment only under very limited circumstances — when a chief of state commits a serious crime. That, he said, is not the case for Rousseff, who is facing impeachment proceedings for violating fiscal laws to mask a budget gap.
The impeachment drama comes as Brazil's is struggling with the worst recession in decades, a sprawling corruption investigation centered around the state-run Petrobras oil company, an outbreak of the Zika virus and preparations to host the Aug. 5-21 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Cardozo alleged the proceedings against Rousseff were akin to "tearing up the constitution." The whole process is "absolutely unfounded," he said.
He suggested the push to oust Rousseff, who was narrowly re-elected to a second term in late 2014, was retaliation by the president's foes, particularly lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha. The main force behind impeachment, Cunha is facing money-laundering charges in connection with the Petrobras probe and could be stripped of his seat over allegations he lied to a congressional committee.
"His excellency, Speaker Eduardo Cunha, used his power to launch his vengeance and retaliation" against Rousseff because she refused to pledge the support her left-leaning Workers' Party in the ethics' committee proceedings against him, Cardozo said. "In opening the impeachment, Speaker Eduardo Cunha wasn't aiming to carry out the constitution."
The lower house is to vote on the matter by the middle of the month. Rousseff needs to secure 172 out of 513 votes to halt the proceedings. If she fails — a possibility looking increasingly likely after Brazil's largest party pulled out of her governing coalition last week — the impeachment process will move forward in the Senate.