Former President Bolsonaro says he intends to return to Brazil this month

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told NBC News on Saturday he intends to return to Brazil, where an investigation is underway into whether he had any role in inciting his supporters to storm government offices after his failed re-election bid.

The comments were made in an interview with NBC News at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in what is believed to be Bolsonaro’s first on-camera interview with a United States TV news outlet since losing the October election and since the Jan. 8 uprising in Brasilia.

Bolsonaro left Brazil in late December, after his defeat, and relocated to a community in Orlando, where he has remained as Brazilian prosecutors have said he’s the subject of a larger investigation into who incited the riot.

Bolsonaro said Saturday that he bore no responsibility for riot, saying through a translator: “I was no longer president, and I was outside Brazil.” He also claimed that bad actors from the left were to blame for the destruction in Brasilia.  

“All the right rallies of the last four years were peaceful and we don’t have anything to do with that,” Bolsonaro said. “Our people would never do what the people did on January 8th. So we are more and more certain that it was people from the left that planned all of that.”

He said through a translator that they are “fighting for investigation” into what he has alleged was nefarious involvement from the left in the uprising.

Bolsonaro said through the translator that he intends to return to Brazil this month, as the investigation continues and he faces potential legal jeopardy. 

Asked if he would stay in Brazil and face the charges, Bolsonaro said he does not respond to lawsuits and “was not cited in absolutely nothing.”

Bolsonaro refused to admit Saturday that he lost the election to leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who narrowly secured the runoff victory with 50.9% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 49.1%.

Instead, he said, “The Brazilian people protested the results of the elections and the other side — the people — did not celebrate the election of the other candidate.”

“I had more support in 2022 than I did in 2018,” he added, through a translator.

Days after da Silva’s Jan. 1 inauguration, a mob of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court to decry the election results — drawing parallels to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

Longtime Trump strategist Steve Bannon called the demonstrators, roughly 1,500 of whom were detained following the incursion, “Brazilian freedom fighters.”

Multiple American elected officials called for his removal from the U.S. following the Jan. 8 riot.

Bolsonaro arrived in the U.S. on a visa for diplomats and foreign government officials. The visa expired in February, and Bolsonaro is awaiting the U.S. State Department’s decision on a six-month extension. 

He demurred when asked whether he would remain in Brazil if charges were to be brought against him, asserting, alternatively, his “suspicions that it was a trap rise.”

Prior to the loss, Bolsonaro sowed doubt in the Brazilian election process, reminiscent of claims of election fraud Trump’s loss in 2020.

Bolsonaro said throughout the campaign that the nation’s electronic voting system is prone to fraud, sowing doubt and setting up his claim after the election that a software bug thwarted his victory.

During his speech at CPAC, Bolsonaro, who spoke through a translator, said his “relationship with President Trump was simply exceptional.”

His speech drew a sizable crowd at the conference, which his son, Brazilian Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, also attended. The former president got multiple standing ovations and had one of the biggest applause lines when he spoke about Covid-19 vaccines. Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic.

Dennis Romero contributed.

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