RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The administration of embattled Brazilian President Michel Temer on Friday began questioning both the legality and content of a recording that purportedly caught Temer endorsing hush money for an ex-lawmaker.
The apparent defense strategy comes as a colossal probe into billions of dollars in kickbacks, which has already ensnared top politicians, is leading to increasing calls for the 76-year-old president to step down.
"President Michel Temer does not believe in the veracity of the declarations" in the recording, according to a statement from his office.
The statement also noted that the person who made the recording, JBS meat-packing company executive Joesley Batista, is under investigation was "taking advantage" of the situation. The recording was turned over to prosecutors as part of a Batista plea bargain.
Local media outlets reported that the president planned to have the audio analyzed, though his office declined to confirm that.
Brazil's highest court opened an investigation into the accusation against Temer late Thursday and lifted the seal on the nearly 39-minute recording, which is scratchy and often inaudible.
In it, two men can be heard talking about former Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, now serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering. Globo newspaper, which first reported the recording Wednesday night, said the men are Temer and Batista.
One man, apparently Temer, complains that Cunha could potentially embarrass him.
"Within my limits, I did the most I could there. I settled everything," responds the other man, apparently Batista. "He came and collected, etc., etc., etc. I am good with Eduardo, OK?"
The first man then says: "You have to keep that up, see?" To which the second man responds: "Every month."
Temer addressed the nation on Thursday, denying that he had authorized any bribes and vowing to continue in office. His short speech did little to calm nerves during a volatile that saw a 10 percent drop in Brazil's stock market and an 8 percent drop in the real against the U.S. dollar.
In early trading Friday, the Real had clawed back 3 percent of its value and stocks were up 2 percent in the Ibovespa exchange. Still, it's unlikely that the volatility, either in Latin America's largest economy or its politics, has ended.
The revelations are the latest fallout from the so "Car Wash" investigation into a kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras. Launched three years ago, dozens of the country's top businessmen and politicians have been jailed and many more are being investigated.
Later Friday, the entirety of Batista's plea bargain was expected to be released, which could very well include more damaging accusations against Temer and others in government.
At least eight pieces of proposed legislation to impeach Temer have been submitted in Congress, and a steady stream of people from many walks of life are continue to call for him to step down.
On Friday, former Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa added his voice.
"There is not another way out: Brazilians must organize, go to the streets and demand with strength the immediate resignation of Michel Temer," tweeted Barbosa.
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman
Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: twitter.com/MSavarese