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Brazil Electoral Court Poses Further Legal Challenge for Rousseff

FILE - Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (L) talks to Vice President Michel Temer at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 2, 2016.

A judge from Brazil's top electoral authority has instructed police to start collecting evidence of irregularities in President Dilma Rousseff's 2014 re-election campaign, adding to her legal woes since Sunday's impeachment vote.

Maria Moura, of the TSE electoral court, said evidence in the case over whether Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer abused their power while in office to run the campaign would include testimony from a massive corruption investigation into kickbacks from construction companies.

Two local papers reported Thursday, however, that at least some of the seven TSE judges supported separating the cases against Rousseff and Temer, a move that could ensure Temer's survival if Rousseff is ousted from office through impeachment or if the TSE votes to annul the 2014 election.

Estado de S. Paulo said at least two TSE judges were sympathetic to not holding Temer responsible, while O Globo said four of the seven judges agreed with the separation. Temer's party broke with Rousseff's Workers' Party earlier this year as the country's worst political crisis in decades deepened.

The lower house of Brazil's Congress, many of whose members are themselves under investigation for corruption, voted Sunday to impeach Rousseff on charges she manipulated budget accounts.

If the Senate agrees to put her on trial next month as expected, Rousseff will be suspended for up to six months and would be unlikely to return to power, leaving Temer as president.

TSE judges have vowed to continue their own investigation, regardless of impeachment, but the TSE case is expected to take much longer and witnesses are unlikely to be called until August or September.

Executives from several construction companies have said in plea deals they made undocumented donations to Rousseff's 2014 campaign, local media have reported.

The companies are accused of forming a cartel to overcharge state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA for work and using excess funds to bribe executives and politicians, and make potentially illegal donations to political parties.

Rousseff is not under investigation for receiving bribes herself.

Further muddying the waters in Brazil's political crisis, a Supreme Court judge has ordered Brazil's Congress to start impeachment proceedings against Temer, an order that is subject to appeal.