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EXCLUSIVE

More revelations to come about Brazil's 'Mr. Clean', says Greenwald

Evaristo Sa, AFP | US journalist Glenn Greenwald, founder and editor of The Intercept website gestures during a hearing at the Lower House's Human Rights Commission in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 25, 2019.

Investigative website The Intercept alleged in June that Brazil's current justice minister was biased in his handling of former president Lula da Silva’s trial for bribery. Journalist Glenn Greenwald tells FRANCE 24 how the investigation unfolded.

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He's known for publishing Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA surveillance programmes. Now Glenn Greenwald has sent shockwaves through the Brazilian government with a series of explosive reports published in June in "The Intercept", the site he cofounded in 2014.

The reports, based on documents and text messages provided by an anonymous source, reveal excerpts from private conversations between the prosecutors in charge of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's case.

The Intercept says the messages reveal the judge who oversaw the trial -- Brazil's current Justice Minister Sergio Moro -- to be biased, and offering improper guidance to prosecutors seeking Lula's conviction for bribery.

Moro had until recently successfully cultivated a "Mr Clean" anti-corruption image.

Greenwald has since received death threats on social media from some of the government's most ardent supporters. President Jair Bolsonaro described Greenwald as a "con man" and said he could be jailed for complicity in computer hacking.

After some members of Congress called for your detention, others for your deportation, death threats on social networks, do you feel safe now in Brazil?

I don't feel completely safe. From the beginning, the justice minister, Sergio Moro, who is the principal subject of our report, has been purposely using a language to criminalise the report we are doing, calling us “the allies of the hackers” and never referring to us as journalists. Then the president of the country, on three consecutive days, by name, called for me to be imprisoned. Then, there are a number of death threats and all kinds of very dirty lies about my family and alike. So we have a lot of security and a lot of preparation with lawyers but at the same time, I did leave Brazil about two weeks ago to go visit my family in the United States. I could have stayed there and done the reporting from there, but I didn’t. I came back to Brazil because I think it’s important to confront these risks in order to show that Brazilian democracy is still viable and that journalists have the right to do reporting.

You suffered retaliations after revealing NSA surveillance programs, but did you expect such a backlash after VazaJato ?

Yeah. To begin with, we knew that the person whose corruption we were exposing, Sergio Moro, is, or at least was, the most popular and beloved person in Brazil because of this false media image that was constructed very carefully over the last five years. So we knew it would make a lot of people very angry. And beyond that, he is extremely important to the Bolsonaro government. He is supposed to be the anchor of the legitimacy of the Bolsonaro government. The person who was supposed to make certain that they didn’t engage in corruption, that they didn’t violate the limits of democracy, and to convince the mainstream sectors to be comfortable with the Bolsonaro government. So when you combine how revered he is among the general population with the importance that he has for the Bolsonaro government, we of course knew that this kind of reporting was going to anger a huge number of people, especially the people who wield power in Brazil. On top of that, there is not really a tradition or culture for this kind of reporting in Brazil -- these large-scale leaks of communications by authorities -- the way there has been in the US with Snowden and other countries because of Wikileaks. So that all made me know that this is going to be highly controversial, that it was going to bring a lot of risks, and a lot of threats. So I can't say I'm surprised by what is happening.

Can you tell me about the process of analysis of the material you got. How do your team proceed ?

Obviously, the first question that you have when get the material is what does it reveal and: “Is it in the public interest?”. It was obvious from the beginning, when we got the material that it revealed very serious wrongdoing on the part of the most powerful people of the country, if not the most powerful person. So that question was easy enough to answer. The second question, the harder question, that you are then going to have to ask is: "Is the material authentic? Is it liable? Can we be confident that what we are publishing is actually genuine? And that’s what took a lot of work. I had the same challenge when I got the archives of documents of Edward Snowden. We had to ask ourselves: “How do we know these documents, obviously shocking as they are, are real? How do we know that they weren't forged, that he didn’t manipulate or edit them in some way?”

So one of the things we were able to do is that we were able to find conversations that prosecutors had with our reporters, and we were able to compare those conversations to the conversations that were still in our reporters' phones and we could see that they were identical word for word. We consulted with sources who know about Lava Jato that have a lot of non-public information. And they were able to confirm that the information in the archives aligned with information that nobody in the public would have known. So we consulted with experts who said that even the most technical discussions of the legalities of Lava Jato which no person would know without having extreme level of specialised knowledge was completely accurate and genuine and authentic. So it created a very high level of confidence that the material was authentic. Once you establish those two points -- the public interest and whether it's authentic -- then you have not just the right but the duty as a journalist to start reporting it.

More than two months after the beginning of the revelations, how much is yet to come ? Are other members of government appearing in the leaks ?

I won't talk about material that we haven't yet published because it’s not responsible to do so, because it has to go through the editorial process. What I can say is that we are closer to the beginning than to the end. There are a lot of stories that we’re currently working on, both by ourselves but also in partnership with other outlets that I regard as extremely important and explosive stories. We are not anywhere near the end of the reporting.

So you have reached less than 50%?

Yeah, definitely less than 50%.

What do you think about the public opinion reaction to the affair ?

I think that it has exceeded even our greatest expectations. We were obviously concerned that people don't want to hear incriminating information about somebody that they believed almost had this kind of religious importance in Brazil. And yet, even in the first week of reporting people were so shocked about the revelations that two of the most important media supporters, the right-wing magazine Veja and the right-wing newspaper Estadao published very harsh editorials -- in Estadao’s case calling for him to resign and in Veja's case publishing a cover, and then Veja became our journalistic partner. Then in the first month, there was polling data showing his approval ratings were declining as the result of this reporting. The public opinion about him was changing, not just about him but the entire Carwash investigation. So when you compare just two months of reporting to five years of building of his public image -- obviously, two months is not a lot of time and even within that small amount of time, the change in both the media perception and public opinion has been far bigger than anticipated.

You are accused by the authorities of being a militant. How would you position yourself on the political scale ?

I always had the view that journalists shouldn't pretend to be things they are not, that journalists have opinions about political debates like every other human being. That journalists are subjective. We are not computers. We are not machines. We perceive the world through our subjective lens and I actually think it's damaging to journalism for journalists to pretend that they don't have opinions, that they are neutral about things, when the public knows that that’s a fraud. So my view has always been that it's important as a journalist to be honest about the things that you believe.

I’m not going to hide the fact that as a journalist, as a lawyer, and as a citizen I find it shocking and disturbing that a judge was working in secret with the prosecutors while pretending that he was being neutral. I'm not going to hide the fact that I regard it as a grave corruption of justice.

We opened up the archives of documents to multiple media outlets, exactly in order to prevent people from claiming that we are hiding things, or that we are being selective to help one side or another.

So we have done exactly what I think a lot of journalists wouldn't do but they should do, which is to share the material with as many journalists as possible to make sure that any doubts about how it's been treated are resolved.

By publishing bit by bit the private chats, are you trying to influence the public agenda ?

There is really no other way to do the reporting. The only other option would be to just publish everything without reporting. That is what Wikileaks has done on several occasions and almost everybody, including me, criticised them for not being careful and responsible. You can't just dump huge amounts of information onto the Internet at once because you are going to end up invading people's privacy. You are going to end up defaming people -- it's totally irresponsible to do that. The only other option is to go through the material and report responsibly on what's in the public interest. And given the size of the material it would be unethical to just hold on to everything until it was all ready to be published. That would mean we would be sitting on material highly relevant to powerful people for six months or nine months or a year because we don't want to publish anything until everything is ready yet. It makes no sense to me as a journalist. For me, when you have information that is ready, you publish it. On top of that, if you publish everything at once, it would be impossible for anyone to process that quantity of information. We use the same journalistic methods that we used during the Snowden reporting that we did with media outlets all around the world. When you’ve researched the file, and when the story is ready and complete, you report it.

The Congress has approved a bill on authority abuse. After meeting with Sergio Moro, Jair Bolsonaro said he plans to veto it. Is it designed to fight against abuses such as those unveiled by VazaJato ?

From my understanding, Sergio Moro wants Bolsonaro to veto most of the bill if not all of the bill, but the indications are, I don't think they have a definitive answer yet.

This is a bill that has been pending for some time because there are other people, including people who are not on the left, who are not supportive of Lula, who believe that judges and prosecutors in the course of this investigation have abused their authority and their power and the law. Just like they believe the politicians and billionaires should be held accountable for their corrupt acts, judges and prosecutors and people who work in the justice system -- including the police -- also ought to be held accountable for their corrupt acts and that what’s this law is designed to do.

Do you think Sergio Moro could be threatened by such a law ?

Absolutely, which is why I think he is opposed to it. Because it's designed in part to punish exactly the sorts of abuse of authority that our reporting has revealed he is guilty of.

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