RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he was unwilling to see his family get “screwed” because of his inability to change law enforcement officials, according to a video released on Friday set to deepen the political crisis surrounding him.
Coming at the end of a challenging week in Brazil, which is now the world’s No. 2 hot spot for coronavirus cases behind the United States, the video prompted Bolsonaro’s fans and detractors to hurl abuse at each other from their apartment windows in cities across the country.
The political scandal centers on an accusation by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a popular anti-graft crusader, that Bolsonaro leaned on him to change senior federal police officials amid investigations into members of the president’s political clan.
Moro’s accusations have led to a federal criminal probe.
In the recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting, which was released by a Supreme Court justice on Friday, Bolsonaro said in coarse language that it was his prerogative to change security officials, their bosses or even ministers.
“I’ve tried to change our security people in Rio de Janeiro officially, and I wasn’t able to. That’s over. I won’t wait for my family or my friends to get screwed,” Bolsonaro said.
“If you can’t change (the official), change his boss. You can’t change the boss? Change the minister. End of story. We’re not kidding around,” he added.
Writing on Facebook after the release of the video, Bolsonaro said there was “no indication of interference in the federal police.” In a radio interview with Jovem Pan, he said he had been talking about his own personal security and not senior members of the federal police.
The video comes at a bad time for Bolsonaro. His political woes have led to rumblings about impeachment. He is also under pressure for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The truth was said, shown on video, messages, depositions, and proved with facts,” Moro, who quit last month, wrote on Twitter.
Before becoming president, Bolsonaro represented Rio state as a federal lawmaker for nearly 30 years. His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, also got his start there, and is under investigation over allegations of corruption.
Right-wing Senator Major Olimpio, who was once Bolsonaro’s lieutenant in Congress, said the video still left doubts as to whether Bolsonaro really intended to interfere in the federal police and for what reason.
Brazilian political parties are also investigating the president’s conduct. In one of those probes, the parties have asked for the seizure of Bolsonaro’s cell phone.
The national security adviser, former General Augusto Heleno, said in a statement he was outraged by the “inconceivable” request for the president’s phone. It could “have unpredictable consequences for the stability of the country,” he said.
Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool