RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil's attorney general has charged President Michel Temer with obstruction of justice and leading a criminal organization. The accusations are the latest in a growing list of allegations and scandals that have dogged Temer since he replaced President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached and removed from office last year. Temer has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. While widely expected, the charges deepen Brazil's political crisis and represent more fallout from a wide-ranging corruption probe that has ensnared many of the country's elite.
Here's a look at how Brazil got here and what comes next:
CAR WASH INVESTIGATION
Temer is the latest and one of the most high-profile people in Brazil to be caught up in a mammoth probe into inflated public works contracts and millions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians. Launched in March 2014, the so-called "Car Wash" investigation and its various offshoots have led to convictions against dozens of businessmen and top politicians. Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, whose term ends Sunday, has gone after several Temer allies. Temer repeatedly tried, and failed, to stop Janot's investigations against him.
CHARGES AGAINST TEMER
Janot accuses Temer of obstructing justice in part by "instigating" the paying of hush money to former Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption and is believed to have much dirt on fellow politicians, and to another political operator. Temer is also accused of using his position to derail probes related to "Car Wash." Finally, Janot accused Temer and several other top allies charged of being part of a criminal organization that received about $190 million in bribes.
Federal lawmakers and Cabinet ministers can only be investigated, charged or tried with the approval of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country's highest court. While the court did accept the charges against Temer, there is an added step because the case involves a sitting president — a vote in the Chamber of Deputies. In Brazil's constitution, the Chamber of Deputies is designated as the voice of the people and for something as serious as trying a sitting president, average Brazilians are supposed to be able to weigh in via their representatives.
For Temer to be suspended for up to six months and put on trial, at least two thirds of the 513 members of the lower Chamber of Deputies have to vote in favor. In the interim, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, would be president. If the threshold is not reached, the charges against Temer would be suspended and he would continue with the rest of his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2018. However, prosecutors could decide to try him on the charge once he left office.
Earlier this year, Janot charged Temer with bribery. The case was sent to the Chamber of Deputies, and in early August the body voted against putting Temer on trial. While deeply unpopular among Brazilians, Temer has shown himself to be a master behind the scenes with fellow politicians. Using the promise of political appointments, hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending and arguing his reform agenda would help Latin America's largest nation recover from recession, Temer convinced 263 deputies to support him, many more than the 171 he needed to survive the vote.
THIS TIME AROUND?
Given that Temer recently survived the bribery charge, he likely still has enough support to survive a second vote in Congress, where many members are being investigated in the Car Wash probe. However, Brazil's political situation is fluid, and some of his support may erode ahead of a vote, which won't likely happen for several weeks. With elections little more than a year away, many deputies could decide that being associated with a deeply unpopular leader could put their own political futures at risk.
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peterprengaman