Brazil's Bolsonaro denies blocking police probe

Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wears a face mask as he arrives at the flag-raising ceremony before a ministerial meeting at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, on May 12, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. EVARISTO SA / AFP

BRASÍLIA, May 13, 2020 (AFP) -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denied Tuesday he had top police officials fired to shield his family from investigations, as potentially damning revelations continued to fly in a case that has hurt the far-right leader.

An obstruction of justice probe opened after Bolsonaro fired the federal police chief, which took an explosive turn as investigators viewed a video of a cabinet meeting at which the president allegedly indicated he wanted changes to the police top brass in order to muzzle ongoing investigations.

Bolsonaro acknowledged talking about his family at the April 22 cabinet meeting, but said he was referring to protecting their physical safety. He said that had been a top concern since he himself was stabbed during his 2018 presidential campaign.

"I never said the word 'investigation.' My concern since the stabbing has always been for my family's security," he told journalists outside the presidential palace.

"The tape was supposed to be destroyed. I don't know why it wasn't," he added.

He said on Twitter that he would have no problem publicly releasing any part of the video pertaining to the investigation.

The public saga goes back to April 24, when popular justice minister Sergio Moro resigned over the firing of federal police chief Mauricio Valeixo.

Moro, an anti-corruption crusader, accused Bolsonaro of improper "political interference" in the police's work.

Following Moro's scathing departure, a Supreme Court justice ordered an investigation into whether the president committed obstruction of justice or other crimes.

As part of that probe, investigators viewed the cabinet meeting video Tuesday at federal police offices in Brasilia. They also questioned three Bolsonaro cabinet ministers.

Moro says the president pressured him at the meeting to ensure the head of the federal police in Rio de Janeiro was replaced, in order to protect his family.

Other parts of the video threaten to hurt Bolsonaro, as well.

According to a series of leaks to the Brazilian media, the president and his cabinet used off-color language and insults in talking about various politicians, Supreme Court justices and Brazil's biggest trading partner, China.

Police are reportedly investigating multiple cases involving Bolsonaro and his inner circle, including allegations his son Carlos, a Rio de Janeiro city councilor, oversaw a fake-news campaign to benefit his father.

The scandal comes at a delicate time for Bolsonaro, who is already facing criticism over his downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new poll conducted by the MDA institute found his disapproval rating had risen more than eight points since January, to 55.4 percent.