RIO DE JANEIRO – With Brazil's presidency hanging in the balance, a majority of judges on the country's electoral court indicated Thursday they would exclude new evidence of alleged illegal campaign contributions in their consideration of a case that could force President Michel Temer from office.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal is deciding whether Temer, who was then a vice presidential candidate, and his running mate former President Dilma Rousseff received illegal financing for their 2014 run.
The new evidence comes from plea bargain deals signed by current and former executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, one of the businesses at the center of the largest corruption investigations in Brazil's history. The sprawling probe is looking into kickbacks and bribes at the state-run oil company Petrobras and has already ensnared several senior politicians and top businessmen.
The defense has argued that the plea bargain testimony should be excluded because the evidence in the case was submitted long ago, and new allegations shouldn't be considered. In an extended debate, four of the seven judges on the court appeared to agree — a sign that the court is leaning toward clearing Temer and Rousseff.
Judge Herman Benjamin, who was named by the court to examine the case, will be the first to offer his vote in the case, and he has begun reading out his explanation for that vote. As he summarized the evidence in the case, he indicated that it overwhelmingly showed illegal campaign financing.
"It's about the continual abuse of political and economic power, whose impacts, without a doubt, have been felt for a long time in the political electoral system," Benjamin said.
Proceedings were stopped for the night and were to resume Friday morning.
The case is only one of several threats to Temer's presidency, which has become mired in scandal since he took over from Rousseff last year after she was removed for illegally managing the federal budget. His popularity is in single digits and he is facing allegations that he endorsed the payment of hush money to a former lawmaker who has been convicted and jailed for corruption.
The judgment phase of the trial was supposed to last three days, but the court scheduled additional sessions for Friday and Saturday in case they are necessary.
The debates at the court have occasionally been testy, with one judge accusing another of putting words in his mouth. But there were also lighter moments, such as when one judge forgot the last name of one of the major figures in the Car Wash case.
Court President Gilmar Mendes, who is an old friend of Temer's, urged caution on Thursday, noting that if the court votes to annul the 2014 ticket, it would be overturning the popular will.
If the court finds the campaign received illegal financing, Temer could be removed from office, adding further to the country's political turmoil. However, Temer could appeal and has said he would do so. Both he and Rousseff deny wrongdoing.
Sarah DiLorenzo reported from Sao Paulo.