The Game of Augusto Aras

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By FÁBIO KERCHE*

The strategies of the Attorney General of the Republic to be reappointed to office.

When September enters, the good news could be a different Augusto Aras. It is on that date that he must be reappointed to the position of Attorney General of the Republic (PGR), he may already be out of the alternatives for a nomination to the Federal Supreme Court (STF), and he could well decide to clean up his biography by doing his job of supervise the President of the Republic, saving what is left of his reputation.

Before that, it is unlikely that the Attorney General of the Republic will go after Jair M. Bolsonaro. From his point of view, in fact, it would make little sense. After spending his entire term balancing himself and protecting Bolsonaro, opening a confrontation with the chief executive now would be throwing away a guaranteed reappointment to the Attorney General's Office or, although less likely, a nomination to the Supreme Court.

The nomination model adopted by Bolsonaro for the head of the Public Ministry of the Union linked the PGR to the wishes of the president. There's nothing illegal about that. In fact, that is the formula in the Constitution. The triple list voted by federal prosecutors was an informal concession by Lula from 2003 onwards that Bolsonaro ignored. With an eye on his reappointment, Aras knows that if he did his job, effectively investigating and accusing the president, who has a record of criminal offenses, he would suffer retaliation and not be nominated for another two-year term.

Augusto Aras has already demonstrated that he knows how to play the political game. He identified in 2019 that Bolsonaro would disregard the triple list presented by the association of federal prosecutors and ran out. He campaigned with his eyes on the executive and legislative branches, ignoring his peers. With a more conservative speech, well suited to the current administration, he forgot the times when he hosted dinners for important left-wing politicians. He was anointed to office by Bolsonaro and had no difficulty in the Senate. He received support, in some cases explicit, in others tacit, from politicians of different ideological colors who could no longer tolerate the antics of Lava Jato.

His strategy during his tenure at the Attorney General's Office was to hit some members of the government when necessary, to protect Bolsonaro at all times. A good example of this was his attitude when Sergio Moro left the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The former judge accused Bolsonaro of trying to interfere with the Federal Police, a power that Moro did not want to share. The attorney general could not simply refuse to investigate allegations made by the former national hero in front of the entire Brazilian media. The way out was to open the inquiry, but to include Moro as investigated for slanderous denunciation and crimes against honor. No one could accuse Aras of not fulfilling his role, although his strategy was clearly to embarrass Moro.

While balanced to at least ensure his reappointment as head of the Union Public Ministry, Aras also worked for a nomination to the STF in the vacancy of Minister Marco Aurélio, who will retire now in July. Appointed by part of the press as the favorite of politicians, although at the end of the line for Bolsonaro for not being “terribly evangelical”, the PGR ran outside, once again, trying to be remembered for having an easier path with the Senate. News reports that the candidate nominated by Bolsonaro, the Minister of Advocacy General of the Union (AGU), André Mendonça, is frowned upon by politicians and may have his appointment made difficult in the Legislature. Aras, according to the president's public statement, would be a great name for a third seat on the STF. The problem is that this vacancy will only be filled by a Bolsonaro nomination if he is re-elected.

The attorney general seeks to buy time and not complicate his future paths. The opposition has already realized that the fate of all requests against Bolsonaro is tortuous with Aras embodying the former PGR of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, Geraldo Brindeiro, the shelving general of the Republic. The way out was to seek help from the STF. Parliamentarians, instead of directly asking the PGR to open an inquiry against the president to investigate the suspicion that Bolsonaro at least prevaricated in the Covaxin vaccine purchase scandal, resorted to the STF as an intermediary.

The Attorney General's Office tried to dodge the request by saying that it would be better to wait for the investigations by the CPI. Minister Rosa Weber made a fool of Aras and forced him to open the inquiry, even with the Attorney General's Office signaling that it did not identify evidence against the Chief Executive. In a clear sign of the strange times we are in, the Judiciary acts as a kind of superior body of the independent Public Ministry.

Augusto Aras finds himself in this imbroglio: he takes lessons from the Supreme Court, is embarrassed by parliamentarians, criticized by his colleagues in the Public Ministry, is beaten by the press and has received unflattering memes on social media. The good news for him is that his payoff will come in just under two months.

Political scientists like to say that institutions matter. That is, politicians act guided by the rules of the game. Under this premise, Aras' behavior thus far makes sense and is predictable. But all that could change from September onwards. Jair Bolsonaro would only have a third vacancy for the STF or could nominate Aras for a third PGR term if he won the presidential election in 2022. Polls show that this is not a guaranteed scenario for Bolsonaro. The president's popularity is at very low levels and Lula, a strong candidate and with his political rights recovered, is seducing Brazilians with the memory of a country that once had jobs and income distribution.

Bolsonaro's chances of continuing with the pen to reward Aras' submissive behavior, therefore, seem to decrease by the day. The PGR will have to answer whether it is worth throwing his biography even further into the mud, betting on positions that will only be decided by the future president from 2023 onwards. He will have to assess what are the real chances of Bolsonaro winning the elections or even ending his term . There is, therefore, hope that Augusto Aras can rebuild his reputation, fulfill his duty, and not go down in history as someone who protected a president at any cost in exchange for office.

* Fabio Kerche is a professor at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). Author, among other books, of Virtue and limits: autonomy and attributions of the Public Ministry in Brazil (Edusp).

 

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