RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Monday (May 22) that he'd been "naive" to hold the late-night meeting which sparked an explosive corruption scandal, but insisted he'd done nothing wrong and wouldn't resign.
Temer, who faces multiple impeachment demands, told Folha newspaper he had innocently stumbled into the crisis threatening to bring him down just over a year since he replaced impeached president Dilma Rousseff.
"Naivety. I was naive," he said.
The scandal erupted last week when Globo news revealed a secret audio recording in which Joesley Batista, an executive from the JBS meatpacking giant, can allegedly be heard getting the president's green light for paying hush money to a politician imprisoned for corruption.
The recording was made during an afterhours visit by Batista to Temer's office that by law should have been logged, but which was kept off the books.
Temer told Folha that his words in the recording do not corroborate the allegations and said "what the businessman did was to induce me into a conversation".
He said there was nothing sinister about the fact that Batista's visit remained unregistered because "many times I schedule five meetings and receive 15 people... It was, let's say, a habit".
"I feel calm, especially as I said: I will not resign. If they want to, then they have to force me out, because if I resign, that is an admission of guilt," Temer said.
Temer sought to minimise the role of a close former aide and congressman, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who is accused of handling bribe deliveries for JBS. He was filmed carrying a suitcase filled with cash.
Temer said Loures was "induced, he was seduced" into his role because he is "good-natured".
Although Temer admitted knowing Loures for a decade and being close to him, he said the relationship was purely "institutional".
Throughout the two-page spread interview with Folha, Temer struck a confident, defiant note. He even joked that his two brief, angry speeches on national television to declare his innocence had burnished his usually aloof image.
"I think they liked this new type," he said. "People think that I... that 'at last we have a president.'"
Temer's ruling coalition is already bleeding support, with the most important partners to his centre-right PMDB still sitting on the fence.
On Wednesday (May 24), the Supreme Court will rule on whether to suspend the investigation into Temer, following his claim that the audio recording had been doctored.