Amid impeachment efforts, Brazil's President Rousseff targets conspirators

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says "The mask of the conspirators has fallen" after Vice President Michel Temer accidentally released a 13-minute speech he intended to give after her impeachment.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff attends a ceremony focusing on education at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Rousseff on Tuesday called her Vice President Michel Temer the “head of the conspiracy” that seeks to remove her from office in her most direct attack on him so far.

Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday lashed out at the two men in line to succeed her if she is impeached, calling her vice president and the lower house speaker "heads of the conspiracy" to remove her from office.

Speaking to teachers and students at the presidential palace in Brasilia, President Rousseff said Vice President Michel Temer and Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha are jointly plotting her downfall.

The remarks came on the heels of an allegedly accidental release Monday of an address to the nation that Vice President Temer intended to deliver after a hypothetical congressional vote that would suspend Rousseff from office. In the 13-minute audio, which Temer said he unintentionally sent to lawmakers through an instant messenger app, the vice president speaks as if he had already assumed the top job.

Rousseff said she was "shocked" by the recording, which she said "reveals treason against me and against democracy."

"The mask of the conspirators has fallen," she said.

"I don't really know which one is the chief and which is his second-in-charge," Rousseff said, referring to Temer and Speaker Cunha, both members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, which pulled out of Rousseff's governing coalition late last month.

"One of them is the not-so invisible hand that's leading this impeachment process, through perversion of power and unimaginable abuses," she said. "The other is rubbing his hands together and is rehearsing the farce of a would-be inauguration speech."

On Twitter, the head of Rousseff's office and a close confident of the president, Jaques Wagner, said that "there is no possibility of pardon for conspirators."

"After impeachment is vanquished, the only possibility for Temer is resignation," Wagner wrote.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Washington is confident in Brazil's ability to overcome its political crisis.

"We believe Brazil's democracy is mature. It's strong enough to ensure that its current political challenges are met and get resolved in a way that allows Brazil to prosper," Toner said in Washington.

On Monday, a lower house commission brought Rousseff one step closer to impeachment after approving a report in favor of her removal.

The proceedings stem from allegations her administration violated fiscal rules to mask budget problems by shifting around government accounts. Opposition parties claim sleight-of-hand accounting moves allowed her to boost public spending to shore up votes.

Rousseff and her supporters say the allegations are bogus and insist financial maneuvers like the ones she made are common practice, used by two prior presidents. She has repeatedly denounced the proceedings as a blatant power grab by her foes.

Her opponents say the impeachment process is in line with the wishes of the majority of Brazilians.

Rousseff has seen her approval ratings tumble amid the worst recession in decades, a spike in both joblessness and inflation, and a spiraling corruption investigation at the state-run Petrobras oil company that has ensnared dozens of top politicians across the political spectrum as well as some of Brazil's richest and most powerful business executives.

The latest person to be caught up in the scandal was a former senator, detained early Tuesday. Officials said Gim Argello was placed in preventive detention, accused of taking bribes from construction firms involved in the bribery scheme at Petrobras.

The bribes were allegedly in exchange for Argello's help in keeping the firms' executives from being called to appear before congressional committees investigating the scheme.

Federal prosecutor Carlos Fernando de Lima said the illicit funds were then passed on as legal donations to political parties.

Lima told journalists at a news conference the practice "has existed for a long time" and underscored that "corruption in Brazil is not partisan."

Argello's aide and another person were temporarily detained in the sweep.

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