Home has provided little comfort to Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Two months after returning to France, and six months after the former International Monetary Fund chief was first accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in Manhattan, salacious new tattle has made life miserable for the man who not long ago thought he would be France’s president. Ensnared in a tentacular prostitution scandal—the so-called Carlton affair, which pundits believe has killed his last distant hope for a return to public life—Strauss-Kahn is floundering as he fights to clear his name. On Monday, he and his wife, the former TV journalist and art heiress Anne Sinclair, added a media lawyer to their legal team and issued a broad threat to sue over gossipmongers’ “most detestable voyeurism” after rumors swirled through the weekend suggesting the couple might divorce. But DSK’s real foe is bigger than idle curiosity. Instead, the battle is against no less than his compatriots’ hunger for a grand collective catharsis.
The headlines are pitiful. “DSK, an Isolated Man,” read the front page of the popular French daily Le Parisien on Monday over a photo of Strauss-Kahn alone in a parking lot, with tousled white hair, open shirt, lazy eye, and grizzled beard. “DSK ‘Sick’: ‘A Broken Man’ on the Verge of Divorce,” declared France-Soir, another daily. The articles linger on the plight of DSK, stuck in his luxury apartment on the posh Place des Vosges. They cite anonymous friends who say he plays a bit of chess, escapes into math equations, cannot bear to watch TV, bites his nails down to the bleeding quick. “He used to take two days to answer a text message, now he responds within the minute,” an anonymous relation told the Journal du Dimanche. Hardly anyone visits anymore, the reports declare, and DSK rarely goes out, fearing the “frequent” insults from strangers. “DSK suddenly seems no more than a lonely old man,” Le Figaro chimed in this weekend, in a piece singled out for legal action by the couple’s lawyers on Tuesday, titled “Anne Sinclair’s Profound Distress,” which suggested divorce was possible for the couple, married 20 years this month, after the latest embarrassing developments in the Carlton affair.
In that case, Strauss-Kahn is no kingpin. Indeed, the details leaked and devoured with the most alacrity about his alleged ties to some of the men under criminal investigation do not necessarily suggest illegal activity. For the moment, in fact, there is no pretense that Strauss-Kahn’s alleged activities are on a legal par with the criminal attempted-rape allegations he faced in New York and Paris, both of which were later dropped. But the story does purport to paint, as the weekly L’Express titles its cover story this week, “The Astounding Double Life of DSK.” Indeed, the lawyers for DSK’s accuser in the New York case, Nafissatou Diallo, who saw her criminal charges against him fall apart in August when her credibility was questioned, have made no secret of relishing the spectacle as Strauss-Kahn’s own public image is tested again. Diallo counsel Douglas Wigdor told Le Parisien on Monday that her New York lawyers are getting daily updates from France as they prepare the maid’s civil suit against DSK.
As the story goes, Strauss-Kahn has been linked to three men (one police officer and two businessmen) who are under investigation in the pimping probe in Lille, north of Paris. Prostitutes told authorities they met Strauss-Kahn at sex parties in Paris and Washington, according to testimony leaked to the French press. Last week a series of leaked text messages under investigators’ scrutiny was also published. The exchanges are truncated—the messages are supposed to have been written by Strauss-Kahn himself, while his interlocutor’s replies are erased—and leave a lot to the imagination. But they appear to suggest that Strauss-Kahn and friends met for sex parties at restaurants and swingers’ clubs in Paris, Madrid, Ghent, Vienna, and Washington. “Do you want to (can you) come discover a magnificent naughty club in Madrid with me (and some material)?” reads one leaked message from July 2009, where “material” has been taken to suggest women.
L’Express’s latest cover story looks to match the dates from the text messages and call-girl statements to Strauss-Kahn’s official IMF agenda as he battled global economic meltdown. (French media have taken to calling the former finance minister “Dr. Strauss and Mr. Kahn.”) The bits of the dossier published as leaks suggest DSK managed to fit a libertine lifestyle around his busy schedule, allegedly attending group-sex dates with prostitutes and the businessmen friends who paid them.
After a speech at the OECD in Paris in February 2009 about “The Lessons of the Crisis for Macroeconomic Policy,” the French weekly reports, Strauss-Kahn is supposed to have engaged in lunchtime (s)extracurricular activities at a restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe with two prostitutes from Belgium, among others. One text message seemingly organizing a swingers’ club crawl in Vienna coincided, L’Express says, with a “very serious conference” at Austria’s central bank. According to the magazine, one call girl detailed her encounter with Strauss-Kahn in the spring of 2010 as “brutal relations with sodomy” in a suite with a pool and buffet at a trendy hotel less than a mile from his Paris home. The leaks put Strauss-Kahn’s last alleged group-sex meet in Washington at the W hotel in the days immediately preceding his May 14 arrest in New York.
“DSK suddenly seems no more than a lonely old man,” Le Figaro chimed in this weekend.
Still, sex parties between consenting adults and using prostitutes aren’t illegal per se in France. Some observers speculate that Strauss-Kahn is at risk of being linked to the misuse of public funds, depending on how much he knew about how the parties were being paid for. One of his businessman friends, David Roquet, the head of a subsidiary of the public-works giant Eiffage, expensed the alleged escapades to his company, sometimes marked “DSK,” although detailed obliquely (e.g., “restaurant”). An Eiffage audit found Roquet racked up €50,000 in expenses.
Last Friday, through his lawyers, Strauss-Kahn requested an audience with investigators as soon as possible “to explain himself.” His lawyers call his treatment “a veritable media lynching,” angry that pieces of the dossier are being passed along “in real time to the press and evidently carefully selected with partiality.” Indeed, authorities have opened an inquiry into the stream of leaks.
The latest leaks and so-called revelations have coincided with a sort of bloodletting in France over the Strauss-Kahn affairs. In the shock of his May arrest and into the summer, many cried conspiracy. There was always a phalanx of allies ready to defend their guy on special-edition news shows after his hearings in Manhattan. But the unseemly Carlton rumors and the attempted-rape case brought by a young journalist named Tristane Banon—which concluded in October when Paris authorities decided not to pursue attempted-rape charges but suggested Strauss-Kahn might have faced a sexual-assault charge if not for an expired statute of limitations—have prompted old supporters to unleash their anger more or less openly.
After the great heights of his prime, Strauss-Kahn finally fell to the very bottom of one pollster’s latest opinion ranking of 35 politicians. Suddenly, even unconfirmed rumor is a green enough light for letting loose. The Carlton affair seems to serve as reassurance that Strauss-Kahn’s scrubbed presidential run was no plot or fluke, even that it is a very good thing his ambitions trailed off when they did, regardless of the dropped criminal cases. That he won’t be living on Rikers Island doesn’t have to mean he should be living in the Elysée Palace.
A recent Le Monde feature, “Strauss-Kahnland Between Rage and Bitterness,” rounded up his jaded political allies. “After the Sofitel, we called him. Now it’s over. We don’t call him anymore. No desire,” said one former associate. “I am very angry. We were duped. He duped us. I never want to hear about that guy again,” said another. Le Monde reported that when the Carlton affair came to light, a running Socialist joke proposed erecting a statue to Nafissatou Diallo. “I don’t say to myself, as some do, 'What did we dodge?’ but instead, ‘Happily, he wasn’t elected.’ He couldn’t have been president. Now I don’t want to hear about it anymore. It’s behind me,” Marisol Touraine, a parliamentarian and onetime DSK supporter, told Le Monde.
“It feels like catharsis, all of this coverage,” one French reporter, who says he had planned to vote for Strauss-Kahn in 2012, tells The Daily Beast privately. “To think we came this close to having a guy like that for president.”