Sending Office: Honorable Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.
Sent By:

Current Signers: Grijalva, Wild, Huffman, Holmes Norton, Espaillat, Escobar, Haaland, Pocan, Omar

Endorsing Organizations: Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington Office on Latin America

Dear Colleague,  

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) engages with judicial authorities around the world, providing critical support and information to foreign partners as they investigate and prosecute local and transnational criminal actors. While these international cooperation
efforts play an important role in advancing the rule of law in many countries, it remains crucial for Congress to exercise effective oversight over the DOJ’s activities abroad, particularly in locations where judicial authorities are believed to have acted
in an unethical or illegal manner. 

The DOJ has
publicly referenced
its joint cooperation activities with Brazil’s Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) anti-corruption task force, which has uncovered a vast network of misconduct implicating numerous senior politicians and businesspeople. Over the last several weeks,
however, U.S. and Brazilian media has
published leaked communications
indicating that top prosecutors and a judge involved in the “Car Wash” operation engaged in flagrant acts of collusion in order to advance a political agenda.  

The actions of these individuals severely compromised the due process rights of former President Lula da Silva, who was sentenced to jail last year on questionable charges. It’s worth noting that, as a result of his jailing, da Silva was prevented from running
in last year’s presidential elections, which polls indicated he could win. The judge who sentenced him, Judge Sergio Moro, was later appointed Minister of Justice by President Bolsonaro, a move widely seen as a form of gratitude for having kept Bolsonaro’s
main rival off the ballot.

With democracy and human rights increasingly at risk in Brazil, it is more important than ever to ensure that our government is helping advance the rule of law there, rather than abetting the actions of bad actors. In order to ensure that the DOJ has not
supported unethical actions by judicial authorities in Brazil, please join me in addressing the following letter to Attorney General Barr with a series of questions regarding the DOJ´s activities in the Lava Jato operation.

To sign this letter, please contact Chelsea Grey at


Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.


Letter Text:

Dear Attorney General Barr,

We write to you today because we are concerned about the Department of Justice’s involvement in recent Brazilian judicial proceedings that have generated significant controversy and could destabilize the country’s democracy.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has always played an important role in fighting transnational crime, strengthening and modernizing judicial systems around the globe. Through trainings, technical assistance, and information sharing, the DOJ has helped make
foreign law enforcement programs more effective, transparent, and accountable to ordinary citizens.

While we recognize DOJ’s integral work with international judicial systems, we do want to ensure that DOJ’s activities in Brazil haven’t abetted any form of misconduct on the part of Brazilian judicial agents or supported judicial proceedings that violate
basic legal ethics and standards. We would like to address a few questions to you and your staff.

DOJ agents reportedly provided support to prosecutors involved in the Lava Jato, or “Car Wash”, anti-corruption operation launched in March of 2014. Although this operation exposed a vast corruption scheme involving numerous Brazilian politicians and private
sector actors, there are a number of significant indications that irregularities and bias have corrupted the operation.

We are particularly disturbed by recent media reports regarding leaked communications that reveal close collaboration between Brazilian federal court Judge Sérgio Moro and senior prosecutors of the Lava Jato operation. Most concerning are reports of collusive
actions aimed at building a case against former President Lula, based on weak evidence that prosecutors believed to be insufficient for a conviction. These reports appear to confirm that the actions of both Judge Moro and the Lava Jato prosecutors have been
motivated by a political agenda that seeks to undermine the electoral prospects of Brazil’s Worker’s Party. 

Strategic collaborations between judges and prosecutors in politically charged judicial activities are, at the very least, flagrant violations of basic judicial ethics. At worst, they are a tragic erosion of democracy. Judge Moro convicted former President
Lula to a nearly 10-year prison sentence based on unsubstantiated corruption charges. He is currently serving time and was prevented from running in last year’s presidential election—even though he was the leading candidate in the polls. It should be of significant
concern to DOJ that the former president was not granted an impartial trial. It is also concerning that the current president, Jair Bolsonaro, appointed Judge Moro to Minister of Justice ­- a move that many observers saw as an expression of gratitude for helping
Bolsonaro win the elections by keeping Lula off the ballot.

While we are generally reluctant to meddle with judicial proceedings in other countries, these proceedings become our concern the moment our government provides support to them, whether directly or indirectly. Therefore, we would appreciate a prompt response
to the following queries:

  • What criteria must be met for DOJ to support any particular set of judicial agents or investigations in Brazil and other countries? 
    • Do DOJ agents ensure that certain legal standards are met by the foreign judicial agents and entities with which they work, and if so, what are they?
  • Describe the involvement of DOJ in the Lava Jato operation.  What led DOJ to work on these particular investigations? 
    • What forms of support did DOJ provide, or is DOJ still providing, to Brazilian judicial agents involved in the operation? 
  • Has DOJ supported the investigation of Brazilian and international financial institutions involved in the Lava Jato investigations?  What explanation is there for the fact that few, if any, executives from financial institutions have been prosecuted during
    the Lava Jato operation, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit gains that have reportedly been laundered?
  • Describe the full extent of DOJ’s engagement with Judge Sergio Moro, including all technical support, information sharing, and any support provided by DOJ contractors.
  • Describe the full extent of DOJ’s engagement with prosecutors and all other judicial personnel involved in the Lava Jato Task Force, including all technical support, information sharing, and any support provided by DOJ contractors.
  • Were DOJ agents aware of collusive actions involving Judge Moro and Lava Jato prosecutors, or of any other instances of unethical conduct by these individuals?
  • Did DOJ agents or contractors continue engaging with Judge Moro following clear instances of his misconduct, such as the illegal wiretapping of a private conversation between former President Lula with then President Dilma Rousseff in early 2016?
  • Did DOJ provide assistance with the collection or analysis of evidence compiled by the Lava Jato Task Force and Judge Moro for President Lula’s case?
  • Did DOJ agents ever engage with Judge Moro, his staff, or with personnel involved with the Lava Jato Task Force through unofficial channels?

Thank you for your careful attention to this matter. We request a response by XX, 2019.


Related Legislative Issues

Selected legislative information: Elections, Ethics and Standards, Foreign Affairs, Government, Judiciary

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