Sergio Moro’s Catch 22: Miami or the Presidency

Will backstabbing opportunists turn the spell against the witch who cast it?

By Brian Mier

On June 20th, Brazil’s right-wing extremist Education Minister Abraham Weintraub abruptly resigned and fled the country fleeing probable arrest. His destination was Miami, the purgatory of corrupt Latin American politicians and organized crime figures.

Although both the Brazilian and international media seem to be trying to rebuild his damaged reputation, I believe that former Lava Jato judge/Justice Minister Sergio Moro will eventually follow his fellow former Bolsonaro cabinet member up to the “land of Disney” as well. Media outlets like Folha de São Paulo and Bloomberg may be heralding the “tantalizing idea of a Moro presidency“, but they are downplaying the fact that his recent public, self incrimination makes him vulnerable to political enemies who can use all of the same lawfare tactics that were legalized during his US DOJ partnership in the Lava Jato operation to politically annihilate the PT party and elect Jair Bolsonaro.

I do not mean to imply here that Moro is at risk of losing a fair trial and that Brazil has recuperated the rule of law that was mortally wounded during the illegal ouster of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, as documented in award winning films like “Edge of Democracy” and “the Process”. Whether Moro is granted the right to fair trial he worked so hard to deny to former President Lula is not the point here. Frustrated at failure to negotiate the internal politics in Brazil’s complicated executive branch as Justice Minister, Moro had repeated crises of authoritarianism with powerful people over his incompetence at getting anything significant accomplished and this bruised egos. One example was allegedly calling up Congressional President Rodrigo Maia (DEM) in the middle of the night to unsuccessfully threaten him into passing an unpopular crime bill which would have protected organized crime militias connected to the Bolsonaro family.

The coalition of opportunistic hate clowns, crime groups, crooked celebrity cops, right wing political parties and media oligarchies that joined together to prevent PT from retaking the presidency at all costs was always tenuous at best. As Brazil slips into the dual crisis of record unemployment and the world’s worst Covid 19 pandemic, many of its key figures have broke from Bolsonaro and are stabbing each other in the back. In the last year Bolsonaro lost support of: the major media companies that aided in Lula’s arrest and their preferred 2022 presidential candidate Luciano Huck; the PSL political party which he rode into office on; the Koch-Brothers supported MBL group and its young cadre of libertarian youtubers turned lawmakers; the largest traditional right wing party in Brazil, DEM; key evangelical church allies like São Paulo lawmaker Janaina Paschoal; popular former B-actor and porn star turned bearded alt-right Congressman Alexandre Frotta; and Health Minister Loius Mandetta, who regularly stood up to Bolsonaro on issues like chloroquine and resigned with a 72% popularity rating. Although there are new alliances cropping up, most of these former supporters are now attacking each other as well. Meanwhile Bolsonaro is still polling at around 30% with approximately half of that group following him with quasi-religious fervor as he attacks all his former allies daily on Twitter as “communists”.

It’s hard to believe that Sérgio Moro, who does not have much personal charisma and was never widely loved inside government or the judiciary, would be able to galvanize these forces to mount a serious presidential run even if there was no dirt on him.

However, in 2019 a series of leaked Telegram conversations revealed in the Intercept proved what many analysts in Brazil had been saying all along: that the Lava Jato investigation, widely hailed in the media as a ground breaking measure in the battle against corruption, was in fact a US supported lawfare attack which repeatedly used illegal tactics such as active coaching from judge to prosecution team to remove Lula  from the 2018 presidential elections and usher in Bolsonaro’s victory.

In 2016 the TRF4 regional court in Porto Alegre issued a ruling of exception which enabled Moro and the prosecution team to operate outside of the margins of the law. If it weren’t for that, Moro would have been debarred and imprisoned even before the Telegram leaks for committing crimes such as: 1) ordering the wiretapping of Lula’s defense lawyers law firm for over a month in order to chart out possible moves in advance, apparently to prevent transferring the case into a jurisdiction that actually had legal authority to rule on it; and 2) illegally ordering the wiretapping of a standing president, editing the audio to make it look incriminating, and leaking it to the nations largest TV network during the lead up to an impeachment trial.

For these and other crimes, Moro was given an election-season slap on the wrist from higher courts, but he is now a civilian with no more immunity.

The day that Moro resigned from the neofascist Bolsonaro administration he helped normalize as it encouraged genocide against indigenous tribes, butchered human rights and decimated the economy, he announced that he had evidence that the President had tried to interfere in the Federal Police to protect his family. After praising the Lula administration for granting autonomy to the federal police, he announced that he had a video tape that would prove Bolsonaro’s guilt.

As a result, the Supreme Court initiated an inquiry that may actually end up leading to Bolsonaro’s downfall but  is also looking into possible crimes committed by Moro. He may have been arrogant due to years of impunity breaking the law as a judge, or he may have just been careless or stupid, but he appears to have publicly incriminated himself. Furthermore, unlike the conviction that resulted in Lula’s political imprisonment and removal from the 2018 elections, there is actual evidence at play here. He is now stuck in a catch 22 in which one of two crimes must stick.

The video of the cabinet meeting he delivered to the Supreme Court after accusing Bolsonaro of replacing the Federal Police director to protect his family from criminal investigations appears to show no such thing. To the contrary, it shows Bolsonaro swearing and complaining that he was unable to do it because it was illegal. If Bolsonaro’s defense can prove this, Moro has violated article 399 of the Brazilian Criminal Code and is guilty of Malicious Prosecution, a felony which comes with a 2-8 year prison sentence.

On the other hand if there is something in that tape which has slipped by the millions of people who watched it when it was transmitted on Globo that proves that Bolsonaro really is guilty, Moro has violated article 319 of the Brazilian Criminal Code by failing to act on this knowledge while serving as a public official and committed Official Misconduct.

As more and more rats jump ship, as Bolsonaro’s followers spread anti-Moro memes, and as the corporate funded Partido Novo flounders, it does not look like the Right will be able to mount a viable candidate for the 2022 elections. The only alternative will be to fight for a continuing dismantling of the electoral process. If the choice becomes an arbitrary decision of the military, for example, Sérgio Moro may end up as a puppet President despite his past criminal behavior. Even for this to work, however, the Right would have to unite behind him. In the meantime, any rival conservative who also wants to make a run for the presidency, from Luciano Huck to Louis Mandetta, can forum shop for a sympathetic prosecution team and judge and use lawfare externalities such as trial by media to, as they say in Brazil, turn the spell back against the witch. At this point that Miami sunshine might start looking pretty good.

Cover drawing by Sama


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.