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Exclusive: Dilma Rousseff's impeachment lawyer talks about frustrating, confusing process

  • BRASILIA, BRAZIL - MARCH 22:  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (R) and Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo attend a meeting with supporters from the legal community at the Planalto presidential palace on March 22, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil.

    BRASILIA, BRAZIL - MARCH 22: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (R) and Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo attend a meeting with supporters from the legal community at the Planalto presidential palace on March 22, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil.  (2016 Getty Images)

  • BRASILIA, BRAZIL - AUGUST 31:  Impeached President Dilma Rousseff delivers her farewell address in Alvorado Palace on August 31, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil. Rousseff was impeached by the Senate and is now permanently removed from office while being replaced by new President Michel Temer.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

    BRASILIA, BRAZIL - AUGUST 31: Impeached President Dilma Rousseff delivers her farewell address in Alvorado Palace on August 31, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil. Rousseff was impeached by the Senate and is now permanently removed from office while being replaced by new President Michel Temer. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  (2016 Getty Images)

After Brazil impeached its first female president, Dilma Rousseff, her lawyer, former attorney general Jose Eduardo Cardozo, feels tired, sad and overwhelmed.

“What she did is not illegal,” he said. “The Congress never complained about it [before].”

Rousseff was accused of breaking fiscal responsibility laws in her management of the federal budget. Specifically, her administration used state-run banks and funds to pay for some of the government's regular payments which were then repaid, a budgetary trick so common it has a nickname: A "pedalada," or pedalling.

“Previous presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula used similar accounting techniques,” Cardozo noted, adding that the push to remove Rousseff amounted to a “parliamentary coup” by elites furious over the populist polices of her Workers’ Party, which has held power the last 13 years.

On Wednesday, she was officially removed from office and her vice president, Michel Temer, was sworn in as her replacement for the remainder of her term.

According to Cardozo, Rousseff was scapegoated because she was "challenging the interests of those powerful people who wanted to take Brazil in a different direction," and because "she promoted investigations into corruption.”

Cardozo insisted that the accusations "were so technical, so sophisticated and so confused that the vast majority of Brazilians don't understand what they're accusing her of."

He said the charges were trumped up to punish Rousseff's support for the huge corruption investigation at state oil company Petrobras that has engulfed many of Brazil’s elite. 

“Someday a Justice Minister will beg her pardon," Cardozo said. "Beg her, if she is still alive, or her grandchildren, if she has died. But let it be done, so that history can honor this woman."

During the process, secret recordings of Romero Jucá, the majority leader of the Senate and a key Temer ally, encouraging the interim president to halt the Petrobras investigation.

Many politicians from the governing Workers' Party and businessmen have been implicated in the scandal. Members of other parties that used to be part of the governing coalition and more recently backed Rousseff's impeachment are also being investigated.

When Rousseff took office in January 2011, the economy was growing at a quarterly clip of 4.9 percent. It has been downhill ever since, and she leaves the presidency with output shrinking by 4.6 percent though this is partly due to the collapse of the price of oil and Brazil's commodity exports now under half of their level in 2011.

Temer, a center-right patrician from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) was among the leaders of the impeachment campaign, despite having been Rousseff's running mate in 2014.

“It has not been a normal process,” Cardozo said. “There are no clear reasons for the dismissal. There are no legal reasons. Dilma has not been accused of corruption. This is a farce.” 

Her impeachment, he added, amounted to "the political death penalty" of an honest politician. “Throughout the process there were marked cards and the result was fully expected.”

But there is a glimmer of hope.

In a separate vote, senators decided not to bar Rousseff from public office for eight years as is usually the case when a politician is impeached. 

“Right now, I will not say goodbye to you. I am certain I can say, ‘See you soon,’” a tired, sad and overwhelmed Rousseff told supporters in Brasília. 

Jorge Elías is an Argentine journalist, radio host and columnist in Radio Continental and TV host in Televisión Pública Argentina. He is also the director of El Ínterin, an international news and analysis website. He can be followed on Twitter at @JorgeEliasInter.

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