President Jair Bolsonaro slammed Brazil's Supreme Court on Thursday for investigating an alleged disinformation and intimidation campaign involving his supporters, as a political crisis mushroomed amid the country's accelerating COVID-19 outbreak.
In his escalating confrontation with the top court, Bolsonaro said it was unacceptable that a judge had approved police raids on Wednesday into the homes of business leaders, bloggers and lawmakers accused of spreading lies and threatening foes.
The Supreme Court investigation is targeting those who support me. They want to remove the media that I have in my favor, he told reporters. Some people want to remove me from office so they can come back and steal again. They will not oust me, he said.
The crisis in Brasilia continued to distract from efforts to control an exploding coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 25,000 and infected more than 400,000 people in the country - second only to the United States in confirmed cases.
Bolsonaro's tensions with the judiciary had already boiled over last week, when a judge released a video of a cabinet meeting where one of Bolsonaro's ministers said the Supreme Court justices should be put in jail.
Criticism of the top court on social media last year, including threats against judges, led the chief justice to open the probe into alleged financing of a fake news network.
Bolsonaro supporters including Sao Paulo lawmaker Douglas Garcia, former congressman Roberto Jefferson and retail entrepreneur Luciano Hang said their homes and offices had been searched and telephone and laptops seized on Wednesday.
They denied wrongdoing and called the investigation an attack on their freedom of expression. Bolsonaro said the invasion of the homes of innocent people was unacceptable.
The president urged the Supreme Court to suspend the investigation and offered to meet with the acting chief justice. Don't plunge Brazil into a political crisis, he warned.