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Brazilian president survives impeachment vote as debating lawmakers throw punches

Brazilian President Michel Temer came out unscathed Wednesday after the lower house of Congress voted against his removal from office amid a heated debate that saw punches thrown and money tossed in the air as a symbol of the corruption accusations against him.

By a 263-227 vote, the Chamber of Deputies voted against having Temer face a corruption trial in the Supreme Court. Had the charges against him moved forward, he would have also been suspended from his post for six months, with Speaker Rodrigo Maia stepping in as interim president until indirect elections were called. The trial could have seen Temer removed permanently.

If impeachment proceedings had begun, Temer would have become the third consecutive Brazilian president to be ensnared in legal trouble. His predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached last year. Her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was convicted of corruption in July.

Temer became a target of an investigation into a billion-dollar corruption scheme in May when businessman Joesley Batista, owner of meatpacking giant JBS, handed over a recording of a conversation he had with Temer as part of a plea deal. Batista was cooperating with investigators in the inquiry code-named “Lava Jato,” or Car Wash.

In the conversation between Batista and Temer, the president appears to indicate that his former aide and congressman, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, was his right-hand man and that Batista could go to him for any dealings between JBS and the government.

Loures was arrested June 3 after federal police released video that authorities said showed him carrying a suitcase containing $154,000.

Atty. Gen. Rodrigo Janot alleges that the money in the suitcase was the first installment of $12.2 million in bribes to be paid over a period of nine months by Batista. Loures was said to be the middleman for both the negotiation and the handing over of the bribe money, which Janot said was intended for Temer.

Those in favor of Temer’s ouster Wednesday delayed the morning session in Congress by dragging out discussions and questioning the process leading up to the vote. They said most Brazilians would be home from work in the evening and should be able to see how each member of Congress voted on television and hear the explanation for his or her choice.

When the second session started just after 2 p.m., attendance was again registered, delaying the process even further, as a quorum of 342 was required for the final vote. Discussions became heated as the afternoon wore on, with screaming matches leading to punches being thrown as several lawmakers held back their colleagues.

Congressman Wladimir Costa, who this week demonstrated his support for Temer by showing off a henna tattoo on the front of his right shoulder with Temer’s name and a Brazilian flag, waved balloons depicting Lula in prison stripes. Those voting for Temer’s suspension wore stickers imitating the tattoo, which Costa initially insisted was real, on the right shoulder of their suit jackets.

The stickers, however, read, “Out with Temer.” Others tossed money in the air and hoisted a fake suitcase with money sticking out of it above their heads. Though impeachment is now off the table, Temer could still face a criminal trial on corruption charges after he leaves office.

Langlois is a special correspondent.

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