Strauss-Kahn is her second husband, she his third wife. She liked to join him on his travels: Panama City, Singapore, Kiev, Yalta, Algiers, South Africa. She had her own schedule and meetings, and she took pictures and posted them on her personal blog, Deux ou Trois Choses Vues d’Amérique—French for “Two or three things seen from America.” She wrote about politics, American institutions, and Barack Obama as well as Snowmageddon, Halloween decorations in Georgetown, and visiting the White House gardens. She sometimes uses the blog to post critical comments about Sarkozy’s politics.
“Anonymity is a refreshing luxury,” DSK told the French magazine Paris Match a few years after moving here. For Sinclair, the move was a homecoming.
She was born in New York City in July 1948. Her grandfather, the art dealer Paul Rosenberg, had moved to the States from France to escape Nazi occupation. He opened a gallery on the Upper East Side where he organized shows of Picasso, Renoir, Braque, Matisse. Rosenberg’s wife was painted by Picasso with Sinclair’s mother as a baby on her lap. Sinclair is a member of the Picasso Museum’s board in Paris.
She and her husband bought a $4-million house in Georgetown next to Rock Creek Park. DSK’s political friends have said Sinclair bought the house—being seen as wealthy isn’t good politics in France, especially for a Socialist. But he probably could have afforded it on his own. He earns $500,000 a year at the IMF and doesn’t have to pay income tax.
Strauss-Kahn has four children from his previous marriages and Sinclair has two, plus grandchildren. In Washington, they settled as a tribe: DSK’s brother, Marc-Olivier Strauss-Kahn, was appointed visiting senior adviser at the Federal Reserve board and administrator of the Inter-American Development Bank. Marc-Olivier was sent here by the Central Bank of France; his wife works at the World Bank. Sinclair’s younger son, David Levai, also made his way here and got a job as a program manager with a microfinance institution. “He often comes to see us by bike,” Sinclair told Paris Match.
The family liked to gather on Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair’s large patio, where they embraced the American barbecue tradition. When they didn’t want to cook, they ordered in from Cafe Milano or went out. Cafe Milano was DSK’s den, mainly for weekday lunches. He also liked a good steak at Morton’s and the French cuisine at Bistrot Lepic and Bistro Français.
Georgetown’s village atmosphere was a big change for the couple. In Paris, they have a gorgeous apartment on the historic Place des Vosges in the trendy Marais neighborhood. “Georgetown is close to everything, I walk a lot, it is a very pleasant life,” Sinclair told Le Figaro. DSK added: “I had this vision of a very provincial town. But on the contrary, there is a very rich cultural life here, we meet people coming from the whole world. And I appreciate being ten minutes away from nature, which is totally new to me.” They sometimes escaped to the Chesapeake Bay or Shenandoah National Park.
Before moving here, Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair had already seen life in DC by watching The West Wing. “Anne and I both adore this TV show!” DSK told Paris Match. The series gave them clues to the rules of political life inside the Beltway.
But DSK didn’t take one thing into account when he moved here: When it comes to fidelity in marriage, the standards in the United States are higher than in France.
On October 18, 2008, the Wall Street Journal splashed a story on its front page: “The International Monetary Fund has launched an investigation into whether its chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, abused his position in connection with a sexual relationship with a subordinate, in a case that could roil a key global institution at a crucial moment in the world financial crisis.”
The news flew across the Atlantic—on television, on blogs, everywhere. Back home, Strauss-Kahn had been known as a ladies’ man. But it was just whispered, never printed. A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal —what a humiliation!
The subordinate in question was Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian-born senior economist who was the head of the IMF’s Africa section. She was also married. They both claimed it was only a one-night stand in Davos during the World Economic Forum. There was an investigation, and on October 25 the IMF board concluded that the affair was “regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the Managing Director.” But DSK was cleared of harassment and abuse of power.
Strauss-Kahn presented his apology publicly, to his wife, his family, and his staff at the IMF. It may be a classic scene of American politics—a contrite husband, his betrayed wife by his side—but it wasn’t something a French politician had ever had to do before.
Strauss-Kahn wasn’t alone in his mixing of extracurricular activities with international business in Washington. A year before DSK’s scandal, his predecessor, the Spaniard Rodrigo de Rato, stepped down because of an affair. According to people who know the case, de Rato separated from his wife during his time in Washington and was having a relationship with a woman who couldn’t get a visa to the United States. Unable to bear the separation, he left Washington. Not long before, Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign from the World Bank’s presidency after allegations that he had abused his power to boost the salary of Shaha Riza, his girlfriend.
But together with his wife, Strauss-Kahn weathered the storm. Sinclair posted on her blog that she and her husband “were in love like on a first date.”
Sarkozy lectured DSK the next time he saw him, not only about his behavior but also about the timing. In the middle of the worst crisis in decades, didn’t he have better things to do than have a love affair with a subordinate? And what about the French reputation? Some would be only too happy to point out that his behavior was oh-so-French.
In the United States, DSK’s affair might have ruined his political career. But after France’s initial surprise at his public humiliation, the “Piroska scandal” had no impact in the polls. The pictures of him in the company of Obama and other world leaders helped establish his image as a ready-to-lead president. And his experience in addressing the financial crisis was one of his trump cards.
As head of the IMF, DSK is not allowed to say a word about French politics. “I am the managing director of the IMF, and I am only that,” he has said to evade questions from the French media. (Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair declined interview requests for this article, as they have for almost all media inquiries this spring.)
Prior to his arrest, DSK claimed he had made up his mind about whether to run but wouldn’t let anyone know what he was thinking. The only clue came in March, when Sinclair dropped a bomb by telling the magazine Le Point: “I read in various French papers that Dominique’s reelection as managing director of the IMF was a sure thing. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t wish to see him serve a second term.”
Throughout France, Sinclair’s statement was seen as “the sign”—that DSK would come back, that he would run for president.
Now, however, all questions about his political aspirations—at least in the near term—have taken a back seat to discussions of guilt or innocence.
Apolline de Malherbe moved from Paris to Georgetown one year after DSK did. She is Washington correspondent for BFMTV, the number-one news channel in France.