Brazil’s government faces near unanimous condemnation over its attempt to punish journalist Glenn Greenwald for revealing its corrupt investigation practices.


Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Brazilian prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald. They accuse him of being part of a criminal organization that hacked into the cell phones of public officials last year. Greenwald and the website, The Intercept, which he works for published a series of stunning articles based on phone chats that revealed prosecutorial bias and collusion between prosecutors and judges who were in charge of putting Brazil’s ex-president Lula da Silva behind bars.

After the articles were published, Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro specifically singled out Greenwald saying that he might wind up in jail for publishing his revelations. Greenwald had already warned about being investigated and receiving death threats after The Intercept’s articles had been published. Supreme Court justice though issued an order prohibiting the further investigation of Greenwald. Here’s a video statement Glenn Greenwald made shortly after the charges were filed against him.

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GLEN GREENWALD: As you probably know, the Bolsonaro government, President Bolsonaro, multiple members of his government simply don’t believe in a free press. They don’t believe in press freedom. They don’t even believe in democracy. They’ve repeatedly and explicitly praised the military dictatorship that ruled the country until 1985 as a superior form of government, and this is all about ushering in that level of repression.

Secondly, the prosecutor who brought the charges just a couple of months ago unsuccessfully tried to bring similar charges against the head of the Brazilian Bar Association who criticized Minister Sergio Moro. He tried to claim that that criticism constituted a crime in Brazil and it was rejected by the court. He’s obviously somebody abusing his prosecutorial power to punish the political enemies of the Bolsonaro government.

Third, the police, the federal police, conducted a comprehensive investigation of our reporting, of our sources, and concluded any report published just a couple of months ago that everything shows that I never committed any crime. Much to the contrary, I always exercise what they called the highest level of professionalism, caution, and responsibility in ensuring that I was doing my work as a journalist and never got anywhere near a crime.

GREG WILPERT: The website, The Intercept, also released a statement about the charges saying, “We are appalled that Brazil’s public ministry has decided to file such a blatantly politically motivated charge against Greenwald in apparent retaliation for The Intercept’s critical reporting on abuses committed by Justice Minister Moro and several federal prosecutors. We at The Intercept see this as an attempt to criminalize not only our journalism but also that of the dozens of partners who collaborated with our staff on over 95 stories based on the archives.”

Joining me now to discuss these latest developments in Brazil and the charges against Glenn Greenwald is Brian Mier. He’s an editor for the website Brasil Wire and is also editor of the book Voices of the Brazilian Left. Thanks for joining us again, Brian.

BRIAN MIER: Thanks for having me, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with some background information. Briefly give us an idea as to what Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept have been revealing over the past year that’s making the Bolsonaro government so angry about the reporting.

BRIAN MIER: Well basically, Greenwald got ahold of thousands of hours of social media chats and conversations between Judge Sergio Moro, who was a judge at the time currently serving as Bolsonaro’s super justice minister, with the [Lava Jato 00:03:32] task force, the prosecuting team. Now, in a very unusual situation by US or European legal standards, Moro was allowed to oversee the investigation and rule on what kind of evidence was admitted and also rule on the case with no jury. So what these conversations reveal is that every single step of the way, Moro was giving instructions to the prosecutors on how to prepare a case on something that he was supposedly impartially judging on.

Now, they show that Moro also got involved in Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. He acted illegally as the leaks show in releasing illegally tapped phone conversations between Dilma Rousseff and former president Lula the day before she was trying to appoint Lula to be her chief of staff to destroy his image and block that from happening. There are conversations between the prosecutors talking about how they were praying to God that Bolsonaro would win the election, and they show that Moro was helping them develop a media strategy to support Bolsonaro in the elections. And then immediately after the elections, Bolsonaro appointed Moro with a cabinet position. It shows that Lula was deliberately removed from the race to open the path for the neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro to take power, and it also shows him illegally leaking things to damage the reputation of Fernando Haddad who was Lula’s replacement candidate in the 2018 elections during the election season.

So it’s very damning and they’ve still got a lot of information they haven’t even released yet. They’ve been kind of releasing it homeopathically piece by piece in partnership with traditional right-wing Brazilian mainstream media publications like Veja Magazine in Sao Paulo. I think it’s a strategy that’s really interesting because everyone on the left in Brazil already thought Moro was acting illegally and that this was a kangaroo court procedure and everything. So the strategy that he’s used to release these really shocking conversations is in partnership with media companies that initially supported Lula’s imprisonment. So it’s chipping away at the kind of center right in Brazil, chipping away systematically at Moro’s popularity rate, at Bolsonaro’s popularity rate. This is what makes them so mad and this is what is making them go after him.

GREG WILPERT: Now, prosecutors also want to… Basically, they’re charging Greenwald with cyber crimes, with hacking into the smartphones of prosecutors and judges who have been involved in this and other corruption cases. Now, how serious would you say are these charges and what’s the reaction been to them from the media and from politicians in Brazil?

BRIAN MIER: Well Greg, the charges are completely frivolous. There was no investigation. Okay? They didn’t investigate Greenwald. The guy who’s making, the public prosecutor who’s making these charges has no investigation to back them up. Right? So not just by my analysis but by the leading legal scholars in Brazil, not only are they frivolous, but they represent an abuse of authority on the part of this public prosecutor who is a close ally of Justice Minister Sergio Moro. The reaction to it, it’s interesting because obviously everyone who’s progressive or kind of on the Brazilian left, which is like almost half of the population here, pretty much automatically believing that these are frivolous charges, but some key figures on the Brazilian right have come out in defense of Glenn Greenwald including Congressional President Rodrigo Maia who tweeted out yesterday that this is an attack against freedom of the press in Brazil. So it’s interesting to see the reaction.

Also, many foreign correspondents who supported Lula’s imprisonment­­–who never questioned the law fare attack against Lula, the kangaroo court procedure–they’re immediately questioning these accusations against Greenwald which are being made basically by the same a right-wing, far right-wing coalition within the public prosecutor’s office. So a lot of journalists who kind of scoffed at the Intercept revelations last year or worked to minimize their importance in the mainstream media, they’re now standing behind Greenwald as well. So it’s really this kind of like national and international outpouring of support for him against this fascist attack. Really there’s only one thing you can call it. It’s fascism. It’s attacking. It’s legal harassment. It’s a lawfare attack against a journalist for doing his job.

GREG WILPERT: Now, apparently Greenwald has also been publishing stories about I mean specifically this, I mean Bolsonaro’s connection to fascism and to Nazism, that his culture minister, for example, Roberto Alvim was recently fired for having quoted Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Then there were other issues involving the Bolsonaro government and Nazism. Talk about what’s been going on in this regard and how this might be connected to the charges against Greenwald.

BRIAN MIER: Well one of the tenants of fascism is that there’s no freedom of the press. I mean Hitler and Mussolini did not have a very good record in relation to journalism and journalists. We all know this, right? So since Bolsonaro started his political career, he’s made a lot of comments showing his affinity with fascism and everyone knows this. So last week, his culture minister gave a speech that it turned out was completely plagiarized from Hitler’s propaganda minister, Goebbels, about the next 10 years of cultural production in Brazil. Right? So this immediately caused him to be fired even though, before he came on the air and gave the speech, Bolsonaro tweeted out lavish praise on his strategy for culture.

So the last thing Greenwald wrote before he was accused with these frivolous charges was an article about how just firing this guy isn’t going to change the ethos within the Bolsonaro government which is favorable to fascism. It’s using fascist tactics and it has deep links to Nazism. I can give you a few examples here. First of all, Ernesto Araujo, Bolsonaro’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, in 1978, his father refused three extradition requests for a former concentration camp director from Poland. Shortly after that, Bolsonaro’s education minister, Weintraub, gave a speech directly plagiarized from Mein Kampf in which he just substituted the word Jews for communists. So he said things like the communists are at the top of the world financial system.

On top of that, after the culture minister was fired last week, an old video of Bolsonaro resurfaced on Twitter and in the social media in which he talks about how, if he were alive during Nazi Germany, he would have had no problem whatsoever enlisting in Hitler’s army. He goes on to praise Hitler as a brilliant strategist and talks about how his great-grandfather fought with the Nazis in Germany and lost an arm. So as Greenwald said, it’s not just that, “Oh, how did this happen? How did this Nazi accidentally get into the cultural ministry?” There’s an entire pattern of top officials in Bolsonaro’s government, including Bolsonaro himself, making sympathetic comments about the Nazis or plagiarizing Nazi speeches.

GREG WILPERT: Now, one aspect of the story though that has not been much reported outside of Brazil, I mean in addition of course to this connection to Nazism, but there’s another aspect that’s been under-reported it seems to me which is the situation of the actual hackers that are accused of intercepting the chat messages that this is all about. Allegedly, they’ve been caught, but what do we know about them and what can you tell us about that aspect of the story?

BRIAN MIER: Well, Greg, it’s very nebulous. At first, they announced that they’d caught these seven hackers. They were from a small town in the countryside of Sao Paulo, that they had been the ones who leaked the information to Greenwald. Then it came out that the leader of this group of hackers was actually someone who had publicly supported Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections. So that raised a lot of suspicion about everything. So they keep saying they found the hackers, they’re talking to the hackers, but nobody really knows what the situation is, who they are, or how the information was hacked.

People don’t know if this was… If Telegram, the social media app, was hacked, which the directors of Telegram say it’s impossible. People don’t know if a phone was stolen by one of the people in this Telegram group connected to the Lava Jato task force or if a phone was cloned. We don’t really have the information yet. It’s very nebulous. They haven’t pulled out anyone and said, “This is the person behind all of this really.” They just keep saying that they’re talking to them, but we don’t really have the information yet. My personal feeling is that they haven’t … I don’t know if they’ve really got the right people. It might just be that they found some scapegoats.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well we’re going to continue to follow the story of course, but we’ll leave it there for now. I am speaking to Brian Mier, editor for the website Brasil wire. Thanks again, Brian, for having joined us today.

BRIAN MIER: Thanks a lot, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.


Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and development professional who has lived in Brazil for 22 years. He is an editor of the website Brasilwire.com. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National...