In the final days before they decided whether to drop sexual-assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, New York City prosecutors and lawyers for the accuser engaged in an unusual exchange of letters that laid bare just how far their relationship deteriorated during the headline-grabbing case, The Daily Beast has learned.
Hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, who accused the powerful Frenchman of attacking her May 14 when she went to clean his luxury suite, was treated by prosecutors more like a defendant than a victim and in a manner that would deter other sexual-assault victims from coming forward, her lawyer Kenneth Thompson wrote in a biting Aug. 8 letter to the Manhattan district attorney’s office that was obtained by the Beast.
“Through the use of intimidation tactics, unscrupulous and false leaks to the media and public attacks on the victim and her attorneys, your office has managed to turn back the clock to a time in which victims of sexual crimes rarely came forward for fear of exactly what has happened to Ms. Diallo in this case,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson’s broadside came three days after the prosecutors took the rare step of seeking attorney-client privileged communications outlining any effort the hotel maid’s legal team made to seek a civil settlement with Strauss-Kahn as the criminal case was still proceeding.
The exchange of letters was the final act in the surreal evolution of a sexual-assault case that landed Strauss-Kahn in jail for days, stripped him of his prestigious job as chief of the International Monetary Fund, and tarnished his chances of running for the French presidency, before falling apart.
Prosecutors are likely to argue in their court filing Tuesday that while there is no doubt a sexual encounter took place in the hotel room, they no longer believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether it was consensual or forced because of widespread credibility problems with the alleged victim that emerged in the weeks after the charges were filed.
Diallo’s decision to file a civil suit and to test the waters on a possible settlement only further muddied the waters for prosecutors.
Thompson is expected Monday to make a long-shot request to have the district attorney’s office replaced with a special prosecutor, a move that is unlikely to succeed. If the charges are dropped, Diallo and her lawyers will still be able to seek justice through the civil lawsuit they filed accusing Strauss-Kahn of committing a “violent and sadistic attack” against Diallo.
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., declined to comment Sunday night.
Prosecutors had the option to subpoena the settlement documents but instead chose to make the request by letter on Aug. 5, laying out specific case law and trying to explain to Thompson why efforts to negotiate a civil settlement could affect the outcome if the criminal case proceeded to trial, according to sources familiar with the correspondence.
Thompson was clearly offended, responding with a five-page missive on Aug. 8 that disclosed numerous clashes between the prosecutors and Diallo that had gone on behind closed doors, and openly questioned prosecutors’ judgment in the case.
The letter reveals that the problems and mistrust began less than three weeks after prosecutors first charged Strauss-Kahn with sexual assault and attempted rape, and assured a court that Diallo’s account of the attack was corroborated by physical evidence.
After Thompson responded, prosecutors sent another letter inviting her to attend a meeting Monday to explain their decision on resolving the case. That correspondence was so tersely written that Diallo’s lawyers fully expect prosecutors to drop all charges against Strauss-Kahn during a court hearing slated Tuesday, said Douglas Wigdor, another of Diallo’s attorneys.
Thompson hinted in his Aug. 8 letter he already expected that outcome. “Regardless of whether your office dismisses the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn or gives him a misdemeanor no jail guilty plea, we, Ms. Diallo’s civil lawyers, are more than ready to hold him accountable for his deplorable acts,” the lawyer wrote.
The letter was dated the same day Diallo took the extraordinary step of suing Strauss-Kahn in civil court, even as the criminal case was pending.
Prosecutors had stood by Diallo, an immigrant maid from Guinea, in the beginning, filing charges within five days of the episode that caused a stir on three continents.
During a May 16 court appearance, an assistant district attorney told the judge that Diallo had “made outcries to multiple witnesses immediately after the incident, both to hotel staff and law enforcement. She was then taken to the hospital and was given a full sexual assault forensic examination. The observations and findings during that exam corroborate her account.”
The correspondence shows the relationship between the two sides began breaking down after Thompson contacted prosecutors on the evening of June 7 to inform them he had uncovered problems with his client’s past. The two sides met the next day and went over a number of problems, including that Diallo had lied on her asylum application, filed a false tax return, and made inaccurate statements on her housing application.
But perhaps most damaging of all, Diallo had lied to prosecutors in stunning detail about an earlier rape that she said had occurred in Guinea. When she recanted, prosecutors were taken aback and began investigating every aspect of her story.
Thompson’s letter recounts a particularly tense set of conversations on June 9—weeks before prosecutors disclosed to the court and Strauss-Kahn the credibility issues. Thompson quoted one of the lead prosecutors on the case as saying that day that “no one with half a brain would ever put her on the stand.”
As prosecutors began investigating the accuser, Diallo’s legal team made an overture to Strauss-Kahn to see if he would be willing to settle the case in civil court. Prosecutors didn’t learn of that overture until much later, precipitating the Aug. 5 request for the attorney-client privileged communications.
By that time, relations on both sides had deteriorated. Diallo decided to go public with her story, giving an exclusive interview to Newsweek and ABC about what allegedly had happened in the hotel room. Prosecutors were floored by the decision, in part because it created another set of statements that would be used by the defense to attack her credibility.
Thompson was equally upset that prosecutors had apparently leaked an inaccurate transcript of a recorded conversation. The leak resulted in a New York Times story suggesting Diallo had a financial motive and had discussed it with an imprisoned friend just a day after the alleged attack. In fact, the real transcript showed it was the prisoner, not Diallo, who raised the issue of money, Thompson would later disclose.
The distrust only grew when the settlement discussions were discovered by prosecutors and Thompson filed a civil suit in the Bronx. In his letter, Thompson told prosecutors that any discussions he had with Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers about a civil settlement did not involve “any monetary demand and/or range of figures to either settle Ms. Diallo’s civil lawsuit or to resolve the criminal matter.”
Thompson’s letter airs other grievances against the prosecutors, including that they did not knock down hard enough a New York Post story that suggested Diallo was a prostitute. She has since sued the paper. (Prosecutors were quoted in several media outlets, including The Daily Beast, as saying they did not have a shred of evidence to suggest Diallo was involved in sex for money.)
If prosecutors drop the charges as expected, the credibility issues uncovered in June coupled with the emergence of the civil case, which might create the perception the victim was interested more in financial gain, will be the likely reasons.
For Diallo’s side, the treatment of the victim after her lawyers volunteered information and tried to correct her account will have been the tipping point, as Thompson’s own letter noted.
“Unfortunately, your office seems determined to treat Ms. Diallo as the defendant and Mr. Strauss-Kahn as the victim and to spend more time investigating Ms. Diallo, and now apparently her lawyers, than her attacker,” he wrote.