Discover more from Letters from an American
January 10, 2023
National security scholar Maria W. Norris of Coventry University, who is covering events in Brazil, reports that today, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gathered around him the president of the supreme court and the governors or vice-governors of each state, the senators, the attorney general, and congressional representatives, all of whom condemned the coup. Many had been staunch supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, but since the coup failed, they have thrown their lot behind Lula. After they declared their support, Lula led them through the vandalized buildings, symbolically reclaiming them.
Lula and his administration say that police worked with the rioters, and a judge has approved warrants for the arrest of two key law enforcement officials close to Bolsonaro: Anderson Torres and Colonel Fábio Augusto Vieira. Police have also searched Torres’s home. Pro-Bolsonaro groups have been camped near military posts and buildings since the election; it appears the insurrectionists’ plan was to induce the military to join them.
In the wake of the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government, Bolsonaro supporters are claiming that the attack was by leftists who infiltrated a peaceful protest. Police have so far arrested about 1500 participants.
Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida before Lula took office, while he was still president. That status apparently enabled him to enter the U.S. on an A-1 visa, reserved for heads of state. That visa is normally canceled when the person holding it leaves office, but since he is already in this country, it is not clear what its status is. Normally, anyone on an A-1 visa who is no longer on official business must leave the country within 30 days, but if Brazil tries to extradite him, the process could stretch on, putting the Biden administration in an awkward position.
In contrast to the Bolsonaro supporters running from the coup, from his perch in the U.S., former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who insisted all along—without evidence—that the election in Brazil was fraudulent, remained adamant that Lula must be replaced. “I’m not backing off one inch on this thing,” he said to Politico. Bannon is close to Bolsonaro’s son, who has been seen hobnobbing with Trump-affiliated people, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
Observers have noted the many similarities between the attack on the Brazilian government on January 8 and the attack on the U.S. government almost exactly two years earlier. But there are differences, too, and one of the big differences is that power had already changed hands in Brazil, and President Lula has compelled other leaders into a show of support even as the government is arresting rioters.
In the U.S., Trump was still in office when his supporters tried to overthrow the government, and there was neither a house cleaning nor a demand for lawmakers to declare their support for the duly elected government.
Many of those who supported Trump in the events of January 6, 2021, are still in Congress. At least six Republican congress members asked Trump for a preemptive pardon, and four of them are still in office. They make up the core of the far-right Republicans House speaker Kevin McCarthy had to bargain with to win the speakership: Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) was also part of the group that pressured McCarthy, and he, too, appears to have been deeply involved in the events of January 6: just days afterward, Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom with a somewhat generic citation that raised questions about why Trump was really giving Jordan the award.
Today the House voted on the rules package McCarthy promised to the far-right Republicans. As expected, it contained a threat to McCarthy: any single member can force a vote to toss out the House speaker. This rule was in place in 2015, when then-representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) invoked it against Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who resigned rather than face a vote.
The deal cut with the far-right group gives them plum committee assignments, including a number of seats on the House Rules Committee. The deal required McCarthy to permit a number of symbolic votes on things important to that far-right group, and it appears to have promised to cap government funding at 2022 levels, worrying both those who want more defense spending and those who want to protect Social Security and Medicare. It also appears that McCarthy said he would not agree to raising the debt limit—that is, honoring the debts the country has already incurred—without “fiscal reforms.” That promise seems to hold the threat of a showdown over a national default.
And there are rumors of a secret agreement that has not been disclosed, an unfortunate start for the Republican majority, which promised to be transparent. Even some Republicans are demanding more information.
One of the things McCarthy did agree to was the creation of a select subcommittee in the Judiciary Committee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government.” By a party line vote, the House today approved that committee to investigate what Republicans insist is an anti-Republican bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice. Jim Jordan will chair the committee, which theoretically can review ongoing criminal investigations, pretty clearly to protect Republicans in trouble. Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance points out that the Department of Justice will never allow such a thing but dealing with the committee will waste time and resources. The Democrats will not boycott the select committee as the Republicans did the January 6 committee, suggesting that Jordan will not reign unchallenged.
Republicans clearly intend the committee to spread a narrative that will undermine the one established so powerfully by the Mueller investigation, the Trump impeachment committees, and the January 6 committee. The modern Republicans have always been closely tied to right-wing media, and nothing made that clearer than Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s broadcast tonight. He did his show from the Rayburn Reception Room of the House of Representatives, “interviewing” Republican congress members so they could repeat talking points.
Yesterday, news broke that in November, President Joe Biden’s lawyers found “a small number” of classified documents from his vice-presidential years in a locked closet in Biden’s former office at Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. They immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration, which retrieved the documents the same day. Biden said that he did not know the documents were there and that his lawyers “did what they should have done” when they called NARA. Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, John R. Lausch Jr., to see if he should appoint a special counsel.
Trump and his supporters immediately tried to suggest Biden was getting better treatment than he did, but journalist Matthew Miller notes that classified documents often get taken from government facilities by accident. Those errors are reported, the documents recovered, and a damage assessment made to determine whether further action needs to be taken.
In Trump’s case, NARA repeatedly asked him simply to return the documents it knew he had. He refused for a year, then let them recover 15 boxes that included classified documents, withholding others. After a subpoena, his lawyers turned over more documents and signed an affidavit saying that was all of them. But of course it wasn’t: the FBI’s August search of Mar-a-Lago recovered still more classified documents. Trump is being investigated now for obstruction and violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to withhold documents from a government official authorized to take them.
Today, New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan sentenced former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to five months in jail at New York’s Rikers Island complex and five years probation after he pleaded guilty to 15 felonies in a scheme to provide Trump Organization employees direct benefits to avoid paying taxes. Weisselberg was the key witness in the trial last fall of the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation for tax fraud and falsifying records. A jury found the entities guilty of all charges, meaning the Trump Organization has been found guilty of criminal conduct, likely impacting its ability to do business and hurting Trump’s defense in other cases.