“Worse Than Watergate”: The Sex Senator Tried For Trying to Spy!

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Angelí on FUD: “I don’t trust the guy, but I vote for him. He steals, but he gets stuff done. He lies, but he’s convincing. He’s guilty, but no one can prove it. What do you think?” “I think you’re an idiot, but you don’t know it.”

Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe.Demosthenes of Athens (384-322 BC)

“This case is worse than Watergate,” Senator Torres said, referring to the scandal that led to the resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon, who was accused of spying on his opponent in the presidential elections.

DEM prepara quinto processo contra Renan Calheiros: In the Brazilian political mud-wrestling arena, a Senator from the former PFL says will formally accuse the “sex Senator” — federal Senate president Calheiros of Alagoas, from the PMDB — of wanting to spy on him.

Of wanting, and trying, but failing, to spy on him.

Shoehorn this one into our bulging file on “Latin American videoscandals as histrionic art form.”

In 2004, Senator Magalhães of the PFL in Bahia was indicted by the federal prosecutor on charges of mounting a huge bugging scheme against political adversaries in his home state, a scheme that was investigated by the federal police. He wanted to, he tried to, and there was quite a bit of evidence that he actually managed to pull it off.

But first the Senate and then the Supreme Court declined to try him on those charges.

Likewise for a 2003, case in which it was charged that Magalhães had the electronic vote-counting equipment in the Senate hacked to influence the outcome of a vote. (Brazilian lawmakers vote by secret ballot.)

When men with ties to the PT were arrested shortly before the last election with a briefcase full of cash, ostensibly to be used to purchase information that might be damaging to a political opponent, the president of Brazil’s federal elections tribunal (TSE), Supreme Court justice Mello of Alagoas (appointed to the court by his first cousin, impeached former president Collor de Mello) told reporters that the case was “worse than Watergate” and merited “the impeachment of the president of the republic.”

Mello later clarified that he was only responding to what he read in the papers, and had not taken judicial cognizance of official information in the case.

That said, he went on to preside over a public interrogation of a presidential aide investigated in the case, Freud Godoy — who was finally cleared of any involvement, but only after enduring endless headlines punning on Freud and fraude (which have similar pronunciations in Portuguese).

The (baseless) accusations against Freud did not even involve fraud, as far as I know.

In the end, no charges were brought against any of the men in the case — one of them the director of risk management at the Banco do Brasil. (How ironic is that?)

There, too, the charge was — as the opposition candidate’s campaign advertising had it — that they had intended to use “a false dossier” against their opponent. (I believe that ad was one of those ads disallowed as stating, ahem, putative facts not in evidence.)

I mention all of this only because I am officially hooked on the Calheiros saga. I find political scandals of this sort fascinating, both as literary genre and as a method of political maneuver.

I have dubbed Calheiros the “sex Senator,” by the way — tongue firmly in cheek — because of the nature of the initial charges in this concerted effort to bork him: Veja magazine ran an anonymously sourced piece saying that a lobbyist for a public-works contractor paid off a woman he had an affair — and a daughter — with on his behalf.

Veja‘s only source appears to have been the woman’s palimony attorney.

Veja‘s parent company, meanwhile, signed the sex Senator’s baby mom to “reveal all” in Veja‘s sister publication, Playboy Brasil.

Negotiating that deal: Veja‘s source, the palimony lawyer, a certain Mr. Calmon, reported the rival IstoÉ. See

But that photo spread, scheduled for September, never ran.

De acordo com a denúncia, é neste hangar que os supostos “arapongas” de Renan planejavam instalar câmeras de vídeo para filmar os embarques e os desembarques dos parlamentares. O objetivo seria tentar flagrar Demóstenes e Perillo em alguma atividade ilegal, para depois chantageá-los em troca de apoio. Mas Pedro Abrão não só se recusou a participar do esquema, como procurou Demóstenes para avisá-lo.

According to the charge, it was in [a hangar for private jets run by a former PTB lawmaker, the accuser in the case] that “spies” in the pay of Renan planned to install video cameras to film the comings and goings of lawmakers. The objective was allegedly to catch Torres and Perillo in some illegal activity, in order to later blackmail them in exchange for support. But Pedro Abrão, owner of the hangar, not only refused to participate in the scheme, but sought out Sen. Torrest to warn him of it.

To warn him not to do anything illegal in the hangar because he was being filmed?

“Esse pessoal está achando que eu sou bandido, mas eu não sou bandido não”, disse Abrão a Demóstenes, segundo relato do próprio senador. Abraão [sic] garantiu-lhe ter ouvido de Chiquinho Escórcio que a operação envolvia outras pessoas e que a idéia era montar um dossiê contra os dois senadores que estavam “batendo demais em Renan”, no Conselho de Ética.

“Those people thought I was a bandit, but I am no bandit,” Abrão told Demosthenes, according to the Senator’s own account of the incident. Abraão [sic] swore to Torres than he had heard from Chiquinho Escórcio that the operation involved other people and that the idea was to build a dossier against two senators who were “beating up too hard on Renan” in the Ethics Council of the Senate.

“O plano só não foi em frente porque o dono do hangar não permitiu”, insiste Demóstenes. “Este caso é pior do que Watergate”, protestou o senador, referindo-se ao escândalo que provocou a renúncia do presidente norte-americano Richard Nixon, sob a acusação de espionar o adversário na campanha.

“The plan only did not go forward because the owner of the hangar did not permit it,” said Demosthenes. “This case is worse than Watergate,” Senator Torres said, referring to the scandal that led to the resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon, who was accused of spying on his opponent in the presidential elections.

Actually, he was accused of knowing about and approving acts of espionage for which people who worked for him were convicted and imprisoned. The espionage was real, not merely planned.

“Lá a espionagem foi política, e esta aqui é civil e criminal”, define Demóstenes, inconformado com a participação de Escórcio no episódio. “Não tem cabimento mandar um funcionário do seu gabinete, um desqualificado do submundo da política, cumprir esta missão”, critica o senador, ao classificar Escórcio de “vagabundo e maloqueiro“.

“In that case espionage was political, but this here is civil and criminal,” Demosthenes said, upset with the involvement of Escórcio in the episode. “It is unseemly to send an employee from his office, an unqualified person from the underworld of politics, to complete this mission,” the Senator said, calling Escórcio a “bum and a [low-life].”

Maloqueiro is listed in Houaiss as an Alagoan term of general disrespect.

It refers, I think, to people who live in malocas — substandard housing, let’s say — and is also applied specifically to glue-sniffing, pot-smoking homeless kids in some of the urban centers, especially São Paulo, I think.

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Pizza! Senate votes down impeachment trial of Magalhães. The plenary session of the Senate voted 49-25, with two abstentions, to permanently archive the motion to open impeachment proceedings against Senator ACM of Bahia. With the decision to refer the matter to the Supreme Court, the leader of the PT in the Senate said he would make a motion to abolish the Senate Ethics Commission. Lobo of the (now defunct) GloboNewsroom, May 6, 2003.

Carl Bernstein was recently here in Brazil, and was asked about the proposition, current among defenders of the noble Brazilian “Fourth Estate,” that the Washington Post “deposed Nixon.”

Luis Nassif quotes the Woodstein reporting partner who did not evolve into a quacking access journalist to quite the same degree in his subsequent career:

“Me perguntaram aqui no Brasil o porquê de não conseguirem derrubar o governo, como aconteceu no Watergate. Não me intrometo em questões de outros países, mas respondi que a imprensa não derruba governos, não é a função dela”.

“They asked me here in Brazil why they could not manage to bring down the government, as happened in Watergate. I do not get involved in questions of other nations, but I answered that the press does not bring down governments. That is not its job.”

Bernstein avalia que o papel da mídia é fazer apenas o seu trabalho e conseguir a versão mais palpável da verdade.

Bernstein says the role of the media is simply to do its job and produce the most palpable version of the truth.

“O que é certo é que no caso de Watergate, o sistema todo funcionou. Foram necessárias outras pessoas corajosas na Justiça, no meio político, para que isso terminasse como terminou”.

“What is certain is that in the Watergate case, the whole system functioned. Other courageous persons were needed, from the judiciary, from the political realm, for all of this to have ended the way it did.

Woodward and Bernstein, I always like to point out, were able to handle the pressure put on them by All the President’s Men precisely because they always meticulously corroborated what their anonymous deep background source was telling them.

They were able to stand by their reporting because it was demonstrably solid.

Journalists know that you can labor for years gathering and sifting the backgound information you need to be able to write one short sentence with the confidence that what you are writing is reliable.

Journalism is not a form of writing; it is primarily a method of gathering and presenting information.

Did Veja magazine try to corroborate the story being told by the palimony attorney of the sex Senator’s baby mom?

The very same attorney who negotiated the “Mônica bares all” photo spread with Playboy, one reads?

Which means that Veja was relying solely on the word of someone their publishing group was doing a potentially lucrative, circulation-boosting, cross-marketing deal with?

These Brazilian scandal rags don’t even bother to stand by their reporting.

They just throw out an accusation, and if it doesn’t stick, they issue the Judy Miller defense — “you are only as good as your sources” — then move on to the next vague and unsubstantiated charge that is indistinguishable from pure gossip.

Now, it is true that many, many people here, people of solid judgment and judicious temperament of various political persuasions, do assure me that Renan Calheiros is an old-style machine politician with innumerable misdeeds to his name who really deserves to be thoroughly borked.

It does not really concern me, of course — I am not a Brazilian voter, though I pay some IPTU here. But this is what there is to read about in the newspapers here — though there are actually more interesting things going on, I tend to think — so I can’t help being curious.

Based on which I would bet you, idly, because I have hardly any solid information on which to base this hunch, that it is true, too: I would bet you there is a responsible adult out there who may well be capable of showing that Renan Calheiros engaged in conduct A that is defined in law B as crime or misdemeanor C, for which law B describes penalty D.

But where is that responsible adult?

In the U.S., for example, “Scooter” Libby has been the subject of a lot of speculation about his doings as a dark eminence of disinformation emanating from the Office of the Vice-President.

I tend to think a lot of that is probably true. That “Scooter” and Dick Cheney have been up to some sinister shit.

In the end, however, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (a Brooklyn-born Republican operating out of Chicago) submitted Scooter to the judgment of a jury of his peers and he was convicted on very specific counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Which after the endless crusade of Ken Starr to bork the Clintons — “Who killed Vince Foster?!” — was a miracle of efficient and impartial administration of justice.

Slick Willy did, in the end, do wrong. But the vast majority of the wrongdoing attributed to him was imaginary news and nonsense concocted by gabbling ratfink artists.

If Fitzgerald wanted to run against Marty Markowitz for borough president in Brooklyn, I might even seriously considered voting GOP. He seems to be a smart, prudent, sensible guy who knows how to get things done.

Eventually, the Brazilian federal police will come in with their report on a criminal investigation they are doing of the sex Senator.

If they do find wrongdoing and do recommend prosecution, the reasoning you will hear in Veja‘s defense will go something like Globo’s defense of its coverage of the TAM disaster:

First, we stated categorically that pilot error was the principal cause of the accident. Later, we stated categorically that it wasn’t, although we based that conclusion on “evidence” that turned out to be irrelevant to the issue. As it turns out, we know now it wasn’t pilot error (or was, if you like: the investigation by the Brazilian airforce continues) for other reasons entirely than the ones we stated. That means we were right all along!

I have a speculative theory of my own, tangential to this case, by the way: Brazilian public figures named after classic orators tend to have the least rhetorical self-control of anyone.

It is just rule of thumb at this point, but it seems to apply, and on a nonpartisan basis, too: the governing party here has its Marcus Aurelius, too.

In his defense, however, Garcia argues that he was captured making the “top! top! top!” gesture during a private moment captured by a sleazy paparazzo.

The point has its merits. See


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