Officially appointed to the Supreme Court by the President of the Republic since July 13, the former attorney general of the Union and former justice minister André Mendonça it has lived since then in a kind of limbo. His confirmation by the Senate, engulfed by the whirlwind of attacks by Jair Bolsonaro on STF ministers, dehydrates day by day and Mendonça has been dedicated in recent weeks to visiting the senators’ offices on a seemingly inglorious mission.
In addition to not having direct support from Planalto, Mendonça faces resistance from the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, and his predecessor, Davi Alcolumbre, who chairs the Constitution and Justice Commission, the first instance responsible for endorsing the nomination. The recurrence of Bolsonaro’s attacks on institutions and democracy on the 7th of September could make Mendonça’s candidacy go up on the roof for good. “The ill will with his name has increased. All of the president’s latest speeches, his latest attitudes, the content of the speeches he made during the holidays… All of this created even more difficulties for André Mendonça in the Senate”, says an opposition senator.
Political difficulties do not seem, however, to undermine Mendonça’s stubbornness. Born in Santos, on the coast of São Paulo, and a career servant at the Attorney General’s Office, he has always had a conservative profile and, after having served in several governments, seems to have found his “true self” in the Bolsonaro government. Taken to the head of the AGU in the wake of the rise of Sergio Moro’s anti-corruption agenda, he saw his name grow in importance with the president and was eventually appointed to replace the former judge when he left the Ministry of Justice. Since then, Mendonça has been remembered for occupying a vacancy in the STF.
The former justice minister and former AGU wanders solitary through the senators’ offices, looking for support
When Bolsonaro expressed his goal of appointing a “terribly evangelical” minister to the Supreme Court, Mendonça, who is a Presbyterian pastor graduated from the South American Theological Faculty, saw his chances grow. Since then, he has worked tirelessly for the job. “In the absence of cadres that characterize this government, it strengthened itself as a legal actor and occupied the absolute vacuum left by the departure of Moro”, observes an AGU servant.
Upon reaching the head of the agency, Mendonça, adds the source, began to dig conservative agendas to qualify for the vacancy in the STF: “He wanted to reopen, for example, the discussion about the end of the criminalization of homophobia. I wanted to build an agenda of customs to please the pocket base”, he says. The civil servant also mentions other episodes, such as the action of the AGU in the STF against the sanitary measures taken by the state governments and the support for the attacks promoted by agribusiness sectors against Ibama and ICMbio: “Mendonça was condescending with the agro and helped Ricardo Salles passing the herd off against the Federal Attorney’s Office”.
A lawyer from the AGU, who prefers not to be identified and says “he knows André from daily work”, defines Mendonça as a complex person. “It has the private side and the public side. In the private aspect, he is an affable, polite, considerate and supportive person. But the public man brings a lot of concern”, he says. Although he recognizes that his former colleague has “a solid and well-respected trajectory” and that he has “built an academic career abroad”, he regrets that Mendonça is a synthesis of the Bolsonaro government. “It’s a combination of Moro’s anti-corruption agenda, the religious agenda of evangelical pastors and the values and customs of Olavo de Carvalho’s followers.”
In the current moment of fraying in Bolsonaro’s relations with society, Mendonça’s profile and his loyalty to his boss make it more difficult for him to deal with Parliament. “His passage through the government was very bad. He was a faithful follower of Bolsonaro’s orders, many of them illegal. At AGU, all the actions that Mendonça took forward – and which were in Bolsonaro’s interest – had authoritarian and illegal components. Many of them were even overthrown by the STF itself”, says a senator.
Criticism from lawyers and lawmakers extends to Mendonça’s brief spell at the Ministry of Justice, where he became famous for pursuing enemies of the government and organizing a dossier against 500 federal and state security agents classified as anti-fascists. “As a minister, he was the one who most used the National Security Law to try to silence the voice of critics of the government and the president. There were several cases in which he worked to frame journalists, professors and social movement activists”, says the same senator. In his assessment, Mendonça as minister was “extremely authoritarian and servile” to Bolsonaro: “That alone would justify him not going to the STF.”
The AGU colleague says that Mendonça’s role at the Ministry was also designed to pave the way to the Supreme Court. He cites the example of the request to grant habeas corpus to the then Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, whose audience was determined by Minister Alexandre de Moraes in the fake news inquiry. “André defended Weintraub just to consolidate with the Olavists. All along he campaigned to dedicate himself to these Christian and conservative groups. When the possibility appeared, he never lost the opportunity to please.”
Mendonça used the National Security Law to harass government critics
To minimize the association with Bolsonaro at a time when the president is showing his worst acceptance and popularity rates, Mendonça has been visiting the Senate offices for long individual conversations. It has won some victories, such as the declaration of support from the PSD bench, but it has not broken the siege yet. The revelation, made last week, that the then AGU had gone to the Lava Jato prosecutors did not help to soften hearts. According to the minutes of the meeting in Curitiba, Mendonça would have pledged to defend, with the STF, the proposal to withdraw from the Electoral Court the competence to judge cases of corruption and money laundering associated with electoral crimes.
“He, on his own, went after the meeting with the Lava Jato prosecutors to close support. And he did what he could. It is an organic lavajatista, although it assumes a guaranteeing position with the senators”, says the former colleague of the AGU. The lawyer risks a prophecy: “If he is even appointed to the Supreme, at some point André will want to impose the lavajatista agenda, including changing the jurisprudence of the Second Panel of the STF. This will go against Bolsonaro’s interests.”
In a statement, Mendonça stated that the meeting with the Lava Jato task force was “public and institutionally scheduled to resolve issues related to the allocation of amounts and the settlement of accounts between the leniency agreements entered into by the AGU with the Comptroller General of the Union and the Federal Public Ministry”. To journalists, he added that he never discussed the issue with the STF ministers and complained, without specifying who he was talking about, that “some are seeking to create versions of my agendas.”
Justifications aside, Mendonça’s lavajatista past bothers senators from the base of the government. Some expressed their concerns to Bolsonaro, which may explain the current estrangement between the former AGU and the presidential clan. Among the resistant, according to reports, would be his own son Zero Um, senator Flávio Bolsonaro, who sometimes expressed to his father the fear that Mendonça, once confirmed in the Supreme Court, could go against the family in criminal investigations that will be analyzed by the Court. Flávio’s fear is that this will happen, especially after the former captain leaves the presidency.
“The feeling in the Senate is that Bolsonaro sent Mendonça’s nomination to be sent. Flávio doesn’t mobilize. They left André Mendonça in the rain”, says a CCJ member close to the government. He goes further: “I don’t believe in Mendonça’s loyalty to the Bolsonaro. Its tendency is to return to the punitive agenda”.
Bolsonarists fear that Mendonça is to Bolsonaro what Toffoli and Fachin were to Lula
The biggest concern of the senators from the base concerns the possible majorities that the former AGU may form in the internal collegiate bodies: “The Second Panel of the STF, where the replacement of ex-minister Marco Aurélio goes, threatens the ‘Centrão’ too much. The fear is because Mendonça would have a natural tendency to ally himself with minister Édson Fachin”.
In this sense, Mendonça’s dialogue is also difficult with senators from the left and those from the PT in particular. In his visits to PT parliamentarians, he has pledged not to seek changes in human rights laws, such as abortion and marriage, among others. With senators of all legends, he pledged not to resurrect the issue of the possibility of imprisonment after conviction in the second instance.
To a PT senator, Mendonça said that “there is no denying that he will always be grateful to Bolsonaro for the opportunity” to reach the Supreme Court, but that this will not interfere in his decisions. On the other hand, some answers would have been slippery: “Questioned about the issue of legal abortion, he said that he will not be against the continuity of this legislation, but he also did not want to deepen the debate on abortion as a right.”
Let the PT members not be fooled, advises the lawyer who worked alongside Mendonça. “In addition to his dedication to Moro’s anti-corruption agenda, he often seeks to criminalize the enemy,” he says.
The former AGU colleague says that Mendonça defends a “systematic agenda against the PT” and some of its historic banners. “In the Supreme Court, it will be against the defense of state-owned companies, labor and minority rights and the defense of the environment. He will pursue the PT as he can, including electorally.”
In the corridors of the STF itself, Bolsonaro’s support for Mendonça, especially after the criticized presidential performance on the 7th of September, tastes like a kiss of death. “The ministers of the Supreme are united to respond to Bolsonaro. All but Kassio Nunes Marques. Do you think the ministers will want another snake in there?” sums up one advisor. If it happens, the burial of Mendonça’s name will also have the approval of the Supreme Court, guarantees the source, recalling that only once in the history of Brazil was a nomination to the Supreme Court refused: “This happened during the government of Floriano Peixoto. It’s not a normal thing, but the Bolsonaro government is an abnormal situation. It broke all parameters”.
Between a prayer to God and a candle to the dog, Mendonça continues in anticipation regarding the setting of the date for his Sabbath. According to a vote map prepared by a senator from the base, even if approved by the CCJ, the nomination of the former AGU still does not have the support of the 41 senators necessary for its approval. “Maybe it’s better not to go to the plenary vote now,” he says.
According to an experienced senator, “Today André is, of course, a lonely candidate”. One sign of this is seeing him approach parliamentarians practically alone. “Usually, when the president makes a name for the Supreme, he makes a big mobilization with the leaders of the government and the grassroots parties, to get as much support as possible. Make a real tour. So far we haven’t seen this at any time.”
Published in issue No. 1174 of Capital Letter, on September 9, 2021.
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