Brazilian President Michel Temer on Saturday demanded the Supreme Court suspend a probe into his alleged obstruction of justice, claiming the central piece of evidence is flawed.
Temer said an audio recording purporting to show him discussing payment of hush money to a jailed politician had been “doctored”.
Temer spoke in only his second public appearance since Wednesday’s reporting of the audio recording, and the opening on Friday by the Supreme Court of a formal probe.
The scandal has sparked protests and prompted eight impeachment filings, raising serious doubts whether Temer, 76, can remain as president.
Although Temer had already vowed to stay on and fight, his brief speech on national television on Saturday was the first sign of a concerted counterattack.
He branded the secretly recorded audio “manipulated and doctored” and again insisted he will not resign, saying his leadership is necessary to see through economic austerity reforms.
Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot has accused Temer of attempting to block a huge anti-corruption investigation known as “Car Wash”.
The Car Wash investigation has upended Brazil with scores of politicians indicted or subject to probes into alleged bribe taking and embezzlement.
Janot is investigating Temer for three concrete charges: obstruction of justice, passive corruption and criminal organisation.
At the heart of Temer’s scandal is the conversation he had with an executive from the JBS meat-packing business in which the president allegedly gives his blessing to monthly payments of hush money to former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha – a witness in a corruption enquiry.
Cunha was jailed for 15 years in March after a Car Wash judge convicted him of bribe-taking.
As a powerful insider, Cunha has long been rumoured to be threatening to spill secrets on other politicians.
Temer’s attack on the integrity of the recording – which is often hard to hear – appeared to be part of carefully planned resistance after two days of near-silence from the government
The threat of impeachment
Temer – of the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party – took office in September, promising a “new era” for Brazil following the impeachment of leftist ex-President Dilma Rousseff over accusations of taking illegal state loans to patch budget holes in 2014.
Temer has until now enjoyed a solid majority in congress through his centre-right PMDB party, the PSDB social democrats and a string of smaller parties.
He needs that alliance to hold if he is to avoid impeachment.
So far, major parties appear to be sitting on the fence. However, the small PSB party, which has one minister in the government, decided on Saturday to pull out.
In an ominous sign for Temer, the powerful Globo media group has turned fully against him with an editorial on Friday declaring he “has lost the moral, ethical, political and administrative conditions to continue governing Brazil”.
On Sunday, nationwide protests are planned by leftist groups and turnout will be closely watched as a gauge of the public mood.
If Temer had to leave office, congress would pick a replacement to rule until after the 2018 elections.
However, there is widespread demand among Brazilians for advancing the 2018 polls and holding an immediate popular election. This would require congress to approve a constitutional change.