House Democrats 'alarmed' by allegations about US diplomat in Brazil

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee say they are "extremely alarmed" by reports out of Brazil that the U.S. ambassador in the country framed trade negotiations as being beneficial to reelecting President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE, according to a report by The New York Times.

News media in Brazil have reported that U.S. ambassador Todd Chapman told officials in the country it would give a boost to Trump's reelection chances if the two nations were able to reach a deal on lifting ethanol tariffs. Brazil currently has tariffs on the key export from Iowa, a swing-state that will be crucial in November as polls already show a tight race. 

The State Department has asserted in a statement to the Times that the allegation "Chapman has asked Brazilians to support a specific U.S. candidate are false," and that the US will keep working to reduce the tariffs.

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But Democrats are reportedly worried Chapman's actions violate the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from making partisan remarks that could influence an election while using their official title.

According to the Times, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHuffPost reporter discusses progressives' successful showing on Tuesday Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets Progressives soaring after big primary night MORE (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Chapman on Friday asking that he turn over “any and all documents referring or related to any discussions” with Brazil about the tariffs. Engel also said the committee would open an inquiry into the issue and reports.

“These statements are completely inappropriate for a U.S. ambassador to make,” Engel reportedly wrote in the letter.

The New York Times highlights reports from The O Globo newspaper and its competitor Estadão, which cite multiple sources claiming Chapman has brought up Trump's reelection in negotiations, suggesting it's beneficial to Brazil for Trump to remain in office. 

According to the Times, the reports about Chapman do not say he explicitly asked for help for the Trump campaign, but tied ethanol trade to the election. 

The allegations come as the U.S. scrambles to negotiate an end to ethanol tariffs as a key framework is set to expire next month, and it's possible a 20 percent tax on all ethanol imports to Brazil could be implemented. Such a tax would hurt the industry in the U.S. as it is already dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.