Do you remember DSK? Of course you do. The trials and tribulations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former head of the IMF, are a scandal story that keep on giving. Last week marked a year since he was arrested after a maid at New York’s Sofitel hotel, Nafissatou Diallo, claimed Strauss-Kahn raped her in his hotel suite. That arrest dashed any hopes he had of becoming a presidential candidate in France.
Diallo said he attacked her when she arrived at suite 2806 to clean what she thought was an empty room. DSK said she took advantage of him and the sex was consensual. He was arrested and charged with sexual assault and attempted rape and held under house arrest through the summer, until New York prosecutors dropped the case in late August. They said there were inconsistencies in Diallo’s testimony.
The events of last summer—from what happened in the hotel suite to the behind-the-scenes in the prosecutor’s office—are the focus of DSK: The Scandal That Brought Down Dominique-Strauss-Kahn. The author is John Solomon, the former executive editor of the Washington Times, who covered the DSK-Diallo story for Newsweek. He now runs the Washington Guardian.
For would-be students of the New York incident, it is a detailed, though sometimes repetitive, retelling of the story and paints a sympathetic and strong case for Diallo. It also gives interesting context to additional sex charges that have landed on DSK since the case was dropped and he returned to his native France. These charges include allegations of a prostitution ring that operated in France and Washington.
We caught up with Solomon for an update on Strauss-Kahn.
What is DSK’s legal status right now?
Right now he’s under investigation in France in connection with a prostitution ring that ran out of Lille and may have stretched as far as DC and the W Hotel.
Is the connection to the W Hotel in DC confirmed?
The judicial documents in France say it went all the way to the W. If you believe them, then yes. This week there was a new development. Two or three women who claim to have been sex slaves in that ring alleged that DSK forced them into a series of nonconsensual sexual acts.
Has anybody specified the nature of these sexual acts?
The details in France are pretty gory.
Do they indicate aggression?
What has Strauss-Kahn said?
DSK has already been interviewed once; he said he does not believe any aggressive criminal behavior occurred, and he was not aware that the women were prostitutes or being paid.
Will there be a civil trial in his case involving the New York hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo?
In the Bronx, where she lives, Diallo has sued DSK for damages in civil court. DSK tried to get out of that lawsuit by claiming he had immunity. The judge has rejected that claim and ordered the trial to go forward. Both sides are now in the discovery phase. As part of the discovery phase, DSK last week countersued Diallo for $1 million, accusing her of making up the story.
Do you think there will be a civil trial?
Part of the reason DSK sued is to try to get leverage and reach a settlement with her. She doesn’t have any proceeds. She doesn’t have a million dollars. One of the things we have learned is that right in the middle of the criminal case, DSK’s lawyers and the lawyers for Diallo were secretly negotiating a settlement. DSK asked, “What would it cost to settle?” That may paint a picture for how this will end.
If there is a civil trial, will DSK’s lawyers put him on the stand?
He may not have a choice [due to parameters of a civil trial]. When a skilled lawyer like Alan Dershowitz outlines how he might interrogate DSK, you see what DSK might be in for.
Has the Sofitel stood behind Diallo?
[The hotel’s] attorney, Lanny Davis, has been strongly supportive of Diallo to get justice. They believe she deserves her day in court. I think Lanny believes Diallo’s story matched the forensic evidence. The Sofitel has kept her on the payroll.
Based on your reporting, what do you think happened in that Sofitel hotel room?
One of the most important revelations to me personally is something that didn’t take a lot of investigating. When DSK gave an interview to his biographer—for the book that offered explanations for the case—he admitted that when Diallo first saw him she tried to flee the room and he stopped her. In the US Court of law, “flight of fear” is a dispositive piece of evidence that something may not have been consensual. I know from DSK’s own lawyers that they are very concerned about that admission.
Has anything gone his way, other than the New York prosecutor’s office letting him off the hook?
No. He’s had a very difficult time. His first interviews in France to rehabilitate his image did anything but and may have dug him into a deeper hole, legally. A lot of the things he did as soon as he got back to France may have been counterproductive. Every time he makes a statement about one of his actions he seems to incriminate himself. That’s one of the challenges his lawyers face.
How do you assess the actions of New York prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr.? Did he do the right thing dropping the case, or did he chicken out?
I thought I knew everything about this case from covering it as it happened, but in writing the book I came to discover that I knew hardly anything. Everything I knew from the outside was different on the inside. One of the things I learned in re-reporting the story afterward is that the prosecutors made some very significant investigative mistakes in the first 72 hours of the case.
So would you call the New York prosector’s office dysfunctional?
That’s a very big word. It’s an editorial word, and I’m not an editorial writer. I would say the district attorney’s office admitted to me they made substantial mistakes at the beginning of the case. One other revelation is that Cy Vance packed up the court materials and went up to Martha’s Vineyard and asked Linda Fairsten to help him write the decision about dropping the case. It shows they saw this as a political decision. He took a legal process and asked an author and novelist to juice it up and tell a story. The prosecutors wanted to make it look like it was Diallo’s fault and not the prosecutor’s.
What’s the biggest piece of misinformation to come out of the Diallo case?
The front-page story that ran in the New York Times—it stated that there was a phone conversation the day after the incident during which Diallo talked to a friend who was a prisoner and that they talked about making money on DSK. That story changed the court of public opinion about Diallo. That day she went from being a sympathetic woman who’d been attacked to being a scheming con artist. But when the tapes of the phone conversation were openly played for prosecutors, well after the New York Times story, no such conversation happened. There was a conversation two days after the hotel incident, and it’s not Diallo raising the question of money, it’s the prisoner. Diallo says, “No, no, no, that’s not for me. This is for the lawyers to handle.” Someone in the prosecutor’s office leaked it, and someone at the New York Times didn’t check it out. Too often on this story the reporters were too glad to be first and hoped to be right.
Does DSK have gainful employment, or is he living off of his wife, Anne Sinclair?
I don’t know of any employment he has. He may have some consulting agreements, but none I’m aware of.
Who is paying his legal bills?
I assume he and his wife are paying out of their own resources. She comes from an enormous amount of wealth. I can only imagine the legal bills are in the millions of dollars, if not the tens of millions.
Do those close to the couple believe Sinclair knew about his private life and looked the other way?
You know, I didn’t go too much into the marriage. I thought that was off-limits to me. But I did have someone close to DSK say that if you only accept what DSK has said in public, then he’s admitted to forcibly trying to kiss a journalist, he’s admitted to targeting a subordinate at the IMF, with whom he was having an affair, and to within five seconds of meeting Diallo feeling it was okay to have casual sex with her, a woman he’d never met before. That’s if you only take his account.
Has Sinclair said anything?
She wrote one letter saying she stood by her man. Other than that, she’s been very quiet. Her career has risen as his has fallen. She’s now the editor of Huffington Post in Paris and one of the most popular women in France.
Where is Diallo today? What is she doing? How is she earning a living?
She still suffers from a shoulder injury that she alleges happened in the attack. To the best of my knowledge, she lives at her home and does not work and waits for the resolution of the civil case. She wants to get justice. She and her lawyers are just waiting out the long game.