Senators push back on secrecy around Bolsonaro’s potential extradition

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Senators unsuccessfully pushed the State Department on Wednesday for information about how it would deal with an extradition request from Brazil for its former president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been living in Florida as his supporters attempt to reverse his election loss last year.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Brazil relations, committee Chair Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) noted Bolsonaro is requesting a six-month extension of his visa — he has been in Florida since the end of his presidential term in December 2022.

The former Brazilian leader has said he intends to return to Brazil this month to lead the opposition to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. However, prosecutions of his supporters for storming Brazil’s Congress on Jan. 8 has spurred speculation that Bolsonaro may be wrapped up in the probes and seek to delay his return. He is also under several other criminal investigations.

Lawmakers Wednesday were unable to get a clear response on whether an official request to extradite Bolsonaro exists and how the Biden administration would respond to it.

“Is the Biden administration committed to swiftly reviewing any extradition requests for Mr. Bolsonaro?” Menendez asked Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, during the hearing.

Nichols told Menendez that the State Department has a “long-standing” policy to not comment on extradition matters and would not comment on whether Brazil has sent a request to extradite Bolsonaro.

“Certainly, we have a strong relationship with Brazil, and we’ll handle any requests that we receive from the Brazilian government expeditiously,” Nichols said.

Menendez added that the Brazilian government said they’d “like to see his return to Brazil by the end of March,” noting that Bolsonaro has been fueling anti-government anger from his temporary home in Florida.

“At the same time he continues to spew disinformation about Brazil’s elections, and I raised the question: What does it say if the United States is to provide safe haven to a foreign official responsible for seeking to undermine democracy and free and fair elections abroad?” Menendez asked.

Menendez said that the agency should be more open about extradition policy “because it seems to me that it’s difficult to make public policy if you don’t know what are at least the facts that are pending before the government.”

Ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) agreed.

“The fact that there’s no comment on extraditions is news to me,” Risch said. “I can understand where there would be occasions where people would want to have confidentiality or something but as a blanket policy, that seems to me to be not appropriate.”

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