08.21.11

No Trial for DSK?

Lawyers for the maid accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of assault tell Christopher Dickey that criminal charges will likely be dropped this week—and the ex-IMF chief could soon be back in France.

Will a jury ever decide whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid? The chances of that happening in a criminal court, or even a civil court, now appear increasingly remote.

Lawyers for the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, say she has been called to meet with prosecutors on Monday afternoon, and expect she will be told that some or all of the criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn will be dropped at a court hearing on Tuesday morning.

 “I think it’s apparent they will be dismissing the case,” says Douglas Wigdor, who represents Diallo along with his partner Kenneth Thompson. Assistant District Attorney John (Artie) McConnell sent a letter on Friday saying he wanted to talk to Diallo “for the purpose of explaining to her what I anticipate will occur in court the following day.” “I guess you could come up with other theories,” Wigdor told me this morning. “But it basically sounds like they don’t want to be accused of dismissing the case and not explaining to the victim why they decided to do that.” The prosecutors themselves were not available for comment.

The Strauss-Kahn affair has had a huge international impact, literally changing the course of history.  Because of the allegations against him by Diallo, who is an illiterate 32-year-old African immigrant single mother, Strauss-Kahn resigned from his powerful position as managing director of the International Monetary Fund. He had been touted as the leading contender to become president of France in next year’s elections. Those ambitions now appear to be over.

The maid’s story initially was so compelling that police and prosecutors felt they had probable cause to detain Strauss-Kahn even after he boarded a flight for Paris on May 14. He was treated as a “perp,” paraded in front of the press, then sent off to Riker’s Island jail before finally being released on $1 million bail to endure what amounted to a gilded house arrest in a rented Tribeca townhouse. That the married Strauss-Kahn also had a long history as a very aggressive “seducer” also came to light, leading New York tabloids to label him “Le Perv.”

But the subsequent discovery of Diallo’s history lying under oath on her petition for asylum and other official papers undermined her credibility. Living on the edge of American society, she associated with some unsavory characters, including one arrested in Arizona on drug charges who was recorded calling her from a detention center there and encouraging her after the fact to try to make money off the incident with Strauss-Kahn. The man in Arizona, Amara Tarawally, had also reportedly used Diallo’s bank account to move tens of thousands of dollars around the country.

On July 1, doubts about Diallo’s reliability as a witness led prosecutors to agree that Strauss-Kahn should be released on his own recognizance, although he still had to remain in the United States. Diallo’s lawyers, both of them former prosecutors, immediately started a campaign to try to force Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. to go ahead with the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn. Thompson claimed Vance, who had just lost a couple of other high-profile cases, was now trying to back out of this one. In the weeks that followed, Thompson and Wigdor mounted an unprecedented campaign to sway public opinion, even making Diallo available for interviews with Newsweek and ABC News.

As one of the reporters who participated in those interviews, I found Diallo largely convincing. Although she is younger, taller and almost certainly fitter than the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn, she said she was terrified that she might lose her job when this man staying in a $3,000 per night suite started forcing himself on her. Although the civil suit filed against DSK emphasizes physical coercion, it was the perceived threat to her livelihood as a single mother that came through most strongly in her interview with Newsweek.

Diallo’s account was also backed up by DNA evidence, and by the consistency with which she told her story. Discrepancies in her memory of what she did immediately after the incident—which rooms she went into and for how long—have been cleared up by hotel records, and support her initial account. No evidence or allegations have been brought forth to suggest she had any premeditated plan to accuse Strauss-Kahn of attacking her.

The line floated by DSK’s defenders, which suggests she consented to have oral sex with him, then created this whole scandal because he didn’t give her any money, is hard to square with the enormous consequences for her own life brought on by her accusations. Her future employment and ability to support her 15-year-old daughter is uncertain, as is her immigration status, and the civil case against DSK is at best a gamble. Nothing about her background or story has been produced to suggest why she would take that risk.

There is no doubt that the civil suit Diallo’s lawyers brought against Strauss-Kahn earlier this month will continue. Thompson and Wigdor are aggressive, persistent advocates. They deny that they have ever discussed any monetary settlement with DSK’s lawyers, and vehemently denounce as a lie allegations by unnamed sources to the effect that Thompson suggested in June that he could make the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn go away. Wigdor is on his way to France right now, where private detectives have gathered more information about women who allege that Strauss-Kahn assaulted them or harassed them. When the court decision is announced on Tuesday, Wigdor will give several interviews to French media to keep up the pressure.

But if the criminal charges are indeed dismissed, there is “definitely not” any way that Diallo or her attorneys can compel Strauss-Kahn to stay in the United States, says Wigdor. And the civil case is not expected to come to trial for two years in the best of circumstances.

By then, Strauss-Kahn could be on his way to rebuilding the political career that was shattered by his arrest, and he may have regained public sympathy in France, where his friends and defenders have excoriated the American legal system. So DSK could decline to answer the civil complaint by Diallo, which would risk a default judgment against him, but leave her attorneys to try to collect the money from him in France. Or, DSK could settle the case out of court for an undisclosed amount of money paid to Diallo. His attorneys say they have ruled out such an option, but many high-profile sexual assault cases—Michael Jackson’s alleged child molestation and Kobe Bryant’s alleged rape of a hotel employee come to mind—ended precisely like that, with hefty settlements.  

However you cut it, DSK’s appearance before a jury in a Bronx County courtroom sometime in 2013 is probably the least likely scenario, even if the trial in the court of public opinion goes on and on.