SAO PAULO — Brazil's top electoral court on Wednesday moves into the second day of its examination of illegal campaign finance allegations that could force President Michel Temer from office, with much hinging on how the judges rule on motions seeking to throw out testimony that arose from plea bargains.
The damaging testimony against Temer came from executives at the huge construction company Odebrecht, which is one of the businesses at the center of a sprawling investigation into kickbacks and bribes at the state-run oil company Petrobras, a scandal that has upended Brazil's life. The legal teams of Temer and his former running mate in the 2014 election, then President Dilma Rousseff, argue that the testimony goes far beyond the purview of the Petrobras probe.
The issue is the first item on Wednesday's agenda, and a simple majority among the seven judges will decide the question.
If the testimonies are kept, Temer will be one step closer to being pushed out of office over allegations that the Rousseff-Temer ticket in 2014 was backed by illegal campaign contributions. Rousseff, who was impeached last year for illegally managing the government's budget and replaced as president by Temer, would come closer to losing her right to hold office for eight years.
Judge Herman Benjamin, who was named by the court to examine the case, began proceedings Tuesday evening with his analysis of the charges against the Rousseff-Temer campaign.
Hermann said the trial would be "based on facts, not on political convenience." Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, who presides over the electoral court, described the trial that could remove his old friend as "a great learning experience."
Rousseff claims innocence as does Temer, who argues that his team was not responsible for the fundraising of the ticket.
The trial is expected to take at least three days, and there is no deadline for a final ruling by the seven judges. It is the first time in Brazil's history that a sitting president risks could have the job taken away by the electoral court.
The suit was brought after the 2014 election by the right-leaning Brazilian Social Democracy Party, whose presidential candidate, Aecio Neves, lost to the ticket of then President Dilma Rousseff and Temer as her vice presidential running mate. Ironically, the party has been a key ally of Temer since he took over the presidency.
If the court decides against the Rousseff-Temer ticket, Temer's mandate would be annulled and Congress would have to pick someone to serve out his term through December 2018. The embattled president, who is facing a number of different corruption allegations and whose popularity is hovering around 8 percent, has said he would appeal.
If Temer should be forced from the presidency by the court, or decided to resign, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over for 30 days while Congress voted in a new leader.
Hours before the trial began, Temer's political situation deteriorated further with the arrest of a former tourism minister and close ally. Henrique Eduardo Alves was taken into custody on allegations of corruption related to the construction of a 2014 World Cup stadium in Natal.
Alves, a former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, was arrested a day after federal police sent Temer a list of questions in a separate criminal probe that involves the president. He had 24 hours to answer the questions, but his lawyers got an extension until Friday afternoon.
That investigation is looking into whether Temer should be charged with passive corruption and obstruction of justice. He is alleged to have endorsed the payment of hush money to former Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha, another former ally. Cunha is serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering.
The president is also being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes via former aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures. On Tuesday, Brazil's top court rejected a petition by Loures to be released from jail. Loures was arrested over the weekend, and police released video that appears to show him carrying a suitcase filled with $154,000.