By SIMON ROMERO
BRASÍLIA — Striking a defiant tone as scandals engulf her government, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil insisted in an interview on Thursday that she would not resign, even as momentum builds in Congress for her ouster.
Ms. Rousseff described the efforts to remove her from office as “lacking legal foundations,” and she lashed out at Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, who has been plagued with scandals of his own. Ms. Rousseff said that Mr. Cunha put impeachment proceedings into motion as a way of deflecting attention from his own legal troubles over charges of bribery and money laundering.
“Why do they want me to resign?” Ms. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, asked in the interview. “Because I’m a woman, fragile. I am not fragile. That is not my life.” She said that investigators should leave no stone unturned in examining her actions.
Asked whether she would accept a vote to impeach her, Ms. Rousseff, 68, said, “We will appeal with every legal method available.”
The president appeared to be digging in her heels for what may be a protracted battle, offering heated responses to an array of questions posed by journalists from international news organizations in an interview that lasted more than an hour.
Ms. Rousseff, who narrowly won re-election in 2014, also denied that her two presidential campaigns had received any illegal financing. Her campaign strategist, João Santana, has been arrested and accused of receiving millions of dollars in illegal payments in offshore accounts.
Ms. Rousseff is striking back at her opponents at a time when her government has come under intense pressure over an economic crisis, corruption scandals and her nomination of her mentor and predecessor as president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to join her cabinet as chief of staff.
The nomination of Mr. da Silva, 70, the most towering figure in the governing Workers’ Party, set off a national firestorm, because the post would give him broad legal protection as prosecutors seek his arrest in connection to a graft investigation involving giant construction companies.
Ms. Rousseff defended her nomination of Mr. da Silva in the interview, saying, “Lula is my partner,” and citing the value of his talents for political negotiation at a time when her government is under intense stress. She brushed away complaints that the appointment would shield him from legal scrutiny, saying he would still be answerable in Brazil’s highest court after he joined her cabinet.
Sixty-eight percent of Brazilians are in favor of impeaching Ms. Rousseff, according to a new opinion survey by Datafolha, one of Brazil’s leading pollsters. The poll, conducted in 2,794 interviews on March 17 and 18, has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Yet in Ms. Rousseff’s favor, perhaps, skepticism also abounds over who would assume power if her government falls, reflecting widespread disenchantment with the country’s political establishment.
Only 16 percent of Brazilians look favorably on a potential government led by Vice President Michel Temer of the scandal-plagued, centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, which has anchored the coalition forged by the leftist Workers’ Party since 2003.
Throughout the interview, Ms. Rousseff likened the impeachment efforts to a “coup.” “Who stands to benefit from this?” she asked. “I can assure you that they’re in the backstage of power. The fallout from rupturing our democratic normalcy could last decades.”
Congressional leaders are pressing ahead with impeachment proceedings, based on accusations that the president’s use of funds from state banks to cover budget gaps was improper and may have been illegal. Some economists argue that the moves eroded confidence in the government’s accounting practices and made it more expensive for the state to borrow money.
Ms. Rousseff contended in the interview that her predecessors had made similar moves, and that in any case, they were hardly grounds for ejecting her from office.
“Every president did this,” she said, “and if you look closely, that didn’t open the way for impeachment proceedings against them.”
The complex process of impeachment in Brazil starts with committee deliberations in the Chamber of Deputies. If that chamber then votes to impeach Ms. Rousseff, she could appeal to the Supreme Court before a vote to open proceedings is held in the Senate. If the appeal fails and the Senate votes to commence impeachment hearings, Ms. Rousseff would be suspended from office for 180 days while she was tried in a process overseen by the chief justice of the high court, with the Senate acting as jury. Vice President Temer would provisionally take over in the meantime, with the authority to appoint his own cabinet. Votes in the two houses of Congress could come as soon as next month.
Ms. Rousseff faces another legal challenge as well, in the Superior Electoral Court, which oversees national elections. The court is reviewing claims that her campaigns in 2010 and 2014 took illicit contributions from the corruption scheme involving Petrobras, the national oil company. If the court rules against Ms. Rousseff, she and Mr. Temer could be forced to step down, opening the way for new elections.
Ms. Rousseff insisted in the interview that she was unaware of the colossal graft at Petrobras, even though she was chairwoman of the company’s board from 2003 to 2010, when the scheme was flourishing.
“Who does the board receive its information from?” Ms. Rousseff asked. “The senior executives. It’s them who inform you.”
As the Petrobras scandal intensifies, Mr. da Silva’s return to Brasília is in limbo.
Justices on the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court, have questioned the nomination on the ground that it could obstruct corruption inquiries overseen by a federal judge, since cabinet ministers are among the 700 or so senior officials in Brazil who enjoy privileged judicial standing.
This special status allows these ministers to be tried only by the high court, leading to years of delays and rarely resulting in arrests.
Ms. Rousseff said that such privileged standing was necessary for the political system to function. “A member of Congress needs it to say what he thinks,” she said. “A minister has it because he is occupying a post.”
Despite the range of the challenges facing her, Ms. Rousseff said she remained sanguine.
“I’m not going to say it’s agreeable to be booed,” she said, referring to the large street protests over the past year in which opponents have called for her removal from office. “But I’m not a depressive person,” she said. “I sleep well at night.”