Strauss-Kahn Case Falling Apart Over Accuser Credibility

Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the arrogant French aristocrat whose career was ended by a courageous chambermaid, shedding light on a corrupt social system? A funny thing happened on the way to the slammer.

Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the arrogant French aristocrat whose career was ended by a courageous chambermaid, shedding light on a corrupt social system? A funny thing happened on the way to the slammer.

NYT (“Strauss-Kahn Case Seen as in Jeopardy“):

The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself. Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

Senior prosecutors met with lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Thursday and provided details about their findings, and the parties are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges. Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will return to State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Friday morning, when Justice Michael J. Obus is expected to consider easing the extraordinary bail conditions that he imposed on Mr. Strauss-Kahn in the days after he was charged. Indeed, Mr. Strauss-Kahn could be released on his own recognizance, and freed from house arrest, reflecting the likelihood that the serious charges against him will not be sustained. The district attorney’s office may try to require Mr. Strauss-Kahn to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but his lawyers are likely to contest such a move.

[…]

According to the two officials, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded. That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.

The investigators also learned that she was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. The woman had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends.

In addition, one of the officials said, she told investigators that her application for asylum included mention of a previous rape, but there was no such account in the application. She also told them that she had been subjected to genital mutilation, but her account to the investigators differed from what was contained in the asylum application.

A related NYT report (“News of Turnaround in Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case Stuns France“):

“This is like a thunderbolt,” said Lionel Jospin, a former Socialist prime minister who is close to Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. Before he was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel in May, Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been considered the likely candidate of the Socialist Party to oppose President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s elections.

The charges seemed to draw an abrupt and indelible line across his career and ambitions. He resigned from the I.M.F. and the French Socialists began seeking a new presidential contender. But the calculations all changed when two well-placed law enforcement officials in New York indicated on Thursday that the sexual assault case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn was on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the maid who accused him of attacking her.

The case had forced France into a degree of soul-searching about the treatment of women and seemed to be propelling a new assertiveness among women, opening up a debate about male behavior toward them. Responses to the latest news seemed to suggest that the debate had become less clear-cut in part because of questions about his accuser. “This is a slap in the face of the feminists,” said Marc Marciano, 53, a trader in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb.

Equally, interviews with French people on the street suggested that the idea of a return to political life could also turn out to be divisive.

“People are not going to forgive him. At a political level, he is dead,” said Agnès Bergé, 44, who works for a law firm in Neuilly. “It would be terrible for France if he came and if we give him some credit again.” But Sophie Leseur, 50, an artist, said the saga could turn Mr. Strauss-Kahn into a “martyr.”

“His reputation is tarnished forever,” said Marie Chuinard, 25, a legal advisor. “I think he can come back to French political life but internationally he is burned.”

CBS (“‘Seismic changes’ to case against Strauss-Kahn“) adds an obvious point:

“It’s not at all unusual for defense attorneys to attack the credibility of alleged witnesses in a case – you see it all the time. It is very unusual to see the prosecution questioning the credibility of their own witnesses, especially in a case as high profile as this,” CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford said on “The Early Show.” “When you have that coming from the prosecution side as reportedly it is here, that means there’s some possibility for some seismic changes in the case.”

As FT’s Gideon Rachman observes,

If this were a novel or a TV mini-series, the next step would clearly be for him to return to France, a vindicated man, and to be swept to the presidency. However, reality is likely to be a bit more complicated. Le Figaro are running a poll of their readers, asking whether DSK could yet become president – by roughly two-to-one, they feel that the answer is No. And that, surely, must be where the odds lie.

[…]

DSK’s defence team do not dispute the idea that there was a sexual encounter with the chamber-maid. Now, of course, there is a world of difference between rape and consensual sex. And the French are famously tolerant of the sexual adventures of the powerful  – and strong believers in the right to a “private life”. But still, Strauss-Kahn’s behaviour might strike many voters as not particularly presidential or dignified for a future head-of-state. And a lot of collateral information has come out about DSK in the course of this affair, which doesn’t look good – allegations of a pattern of sexual harassment in particular.

While public figures, especially wealthy and powerful ones like Strauss-Kahn, have all manner of advantages in our legal system, they also have the distinct disadvantage of the spotlight, where gossip and rumor passes for news and a rush to judgment occurs, often before formal charges have been filed. Ray Donovan’s famous question, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” remains valid.

Now, in this case, the former reputation was quite likely undeserved. Strauss-Kahn is almost certainly a world class cad even if it’s unlikely he’s a rapist. Then again, had the chambermaid simply gone to the tabloids and claimed to have had consensual sex with the IMF director, it wouldn’t have been Topic A for the news media for days on end.

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FILED UNDER: Europe, Law and the Courts, World Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Eric Florack says:

    Did anyone ever doubt this would happen?

  2. Eric Florack says:

    let’s review. Got it? Let’s also recall this woman isn’t the only one. So why suddenly is the meme shifting? I smell a fish.

  3. Andre Kenji says:

    I find something odd to use an online poll of the center right Le Figaro to assert the popularity of a socialist politician. Anyway, is kinda fun reading the French newspapers today.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Eric Florack: I’m not sure what your point is. The accuser in a he said, she said case has proven to be a monumental liar with criminal ties. That undermines her credibility as a witness. The second accuser is French; did she allege the assault took place in US jurisdiction?

  5. Tano says:

    Did anyone ever doubt this would happen?

    Of course I doubted this would happen. How on earth could any rational person have been sure, beyond doubt, that this would happen?

  6. Bill Jempty says:

    ,two well-placed law enforcement officials

    Two people talking off the record. How can we judge their credibility.

    Come forward and speak publicly if this is an outrage. The blogger Radley Balko makes a living exposing how police violate the law and get away with it. What would these ‘two well-placed law enforcement officials’ have to worry about. The police motto- To serve and protect….our own.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Whatever the truth of the matter, whoever is leaking this stuff should be fired.

  8. One thing I noticed is that all the accusations against the housekeeper are things completely unrelated to case at hand. Suppose she was involved in drug dealing? I don’t see how that would make it okay to rape her.

  9. Tano says:

    Suppose she was involved in drug dealing? I don’t see how that would make it okay to rape her.

    The problem though, is that aside from DSK, she is the only person who can testify as to whether or not she really was raped. Nobody who was not in the room can ever know with absolute certainty. So even for the legal standard of “proof beyond reasonable doubt” – indeed even for the more casual standard that we who are not members of any jury might use in forming our own opinions of the case – we need to have some pretty high level of trust in her testimony.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that it is ok to rape a drug dealer. The question is whether she was in fact raped – and to come to that conclusion, you would need to trust her word.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What Tano said. The bottom line is that the prosecutors, having caught her in a number of lies during sworn testimony, simply don’t find her testimony credible and aren’t willing to attempt to prosecute a felony on its basis. That’s how officers of the court are supposed to act.

  11. Given that most jury decisions are really about which party the jurors like less, I agree that as a practical matter these allegations likely make her useless as a witness. But if juries were actually deciding the case based on the facts rather than their prejudice, I don’t see why a someone tangentally connected to marijuana would be presumed to be less credible than a housekeeper.

  12. Tano says:

    I don’t see why a someone tangentally connected to marijuana would be presumed to be less credible than a housekeeper.

    I imagine it is more a function of her lying to the prosecutors, rather than her connections to drug dealing that caused her credibility to be eroded..

  13. PD Shaw says:

    I agree with Stormy Dragon, and would add that creeps look for victims, people at the edges of society with possible criminal, immigration and economic problems. Many are not going to manage the criminal justice system very well.

    If prosecution can’t prove a he-said/ she-said rape allegation, drop the charges; don’t go into the press and accuse her of perjury, unless your going to charge her.

  14. george says:

    I agree with Stormy Dragon, and would add that creeps look for victims, people at the edges of society with possible criminal, immigration and economic problems. Many are not going to manage the criminal justice system very well.

    Though in this case everyone was very quick to take her side and jump over the rich guy. The problem is that if she lied to prosecution about one thing, is there any reason in a “he said, she said” situation to not believe that she’d lying about other things? That she has connections with someone in the drug trade doesn’t make her a potential liar; that she’s lied does, and means that absent other proof, there’s definitely reasonable doubt on her testimony. I think that’s pretty standard … if you’ve caught me lying, are you likely to take what I tell you on face value?

    On the other hand, its still too early to jump to conclusions either way – before everyone jumped to conclude he was guilty, now they’re jumping the other way. Better to just wait to see how it plays out in court, rather than on press releases.

  15. ponce says:

    Of course I doubted this would happen. How on earth could any rational person have been sure, beyond doubt, that this would happen?

    I just made $100.

    Once I learned the color of the victim, the verdict wasn’t a certainty, but it was certainly worth risking $100 on this outcome.

  16. Tano says:

    @ponce:

    Once I learned the color of the victim, the verdict wasn’t a certainty, but it was certainly worth risking $100 on this outcome

    .

    What the hell are you saying? That once you knew she was black you bet a hundred bucks she was lying? What kind of racist crap is this?

  17. The problem is that if she lied to prosecution about one thing, is there any reason in a “he said, she said” situation to not believe that she’d lying about other things?

    If we make the argument that anyone who has ever lied about anything cannot be a credible witness, then there has probably never been a credible witness ever. Again, the question should be if she’s lied about anything relevant to the Strauss-Kahn case, not whether she’s being helpful with their drug war fishing expeditions.

    To be honest, it looks to me like this is really about trying to get a drug smuggling operation, and persecuting Strauss-Kahn was a quid-pro-quo the prosecuters dangled in front of the house keeper to try and flip her into testifying.

    The prosecuters don’t care and never really have cared about what happened in the hotel. Whether an innocent man might have gone to prison then or a guilty man might escape now doesn’t really matter, as long as they get their big drug bust and can further their careers.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: I gather ponce is insinuating that the system wouldn’t take a black woman’s word in a case against a powerful white man.

  19. Tano says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    To be honest, it looks to me like this is really about trying to get a drug smuggling operation, and persecuting Strauss-Kahn was a quid-pro-quo the prosecuters dangled in front of the house keeper to try and flip her into testifying.

    You cannot be serious, can you?

    The prosecuters don’t care and never really have cared about what happened in the hotel.

    On what basis can you possibly believe that?

    the question should be if she’s lied about anything relevant to the Strauss-Kahn case

    Apparently she did. Turns out that after she left DSK’s suite, she went to clean another room. Then she went back to the suite and cleaned that too. Then she made her claim to the hotel management. This is contra her original story.

    Read the letter that the prosecutors sent to DSK’s lawyers…LINK to NYT

  20. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    I gather ponce is insinuating that the system wouldn’t take a black woman’s word in a case against a powerful white man.

    Hmmm. But why then would they have brought the case in the first place, throwing one of the most powerful men in the world in jail? If you are going to be a racist about it and not believe the black woman, then why the hell would you first destroy the rich white guy’s career before dismissing the charge?

  21. george says:

    If we make the argument that anyone who has ever lied about anything cannot be a credible witness, then there has probably never been a credible witness ever. Again, the question should be if she’s lied about anything relevant to the Strauss-Kahn case, not whether she’s being helpful with their drug war fishing expeditions.

    My understanding is that she lied about what she did afterward – initially she said she reported it right away, but it turns out she went ahead and cleaned another room.

    But even outside of that, in this kind of situation where its one person’s word against another’s, how do you determine who’s telling the truth? Do you assume she’s lying because she’s a black female? Do you assume he’s lying because he’s a white male? The only thing you have to go on is the credibility of the people.

    His is pretty bad given his history with women, so the advantage was hers. Now hers looks to be as bad given her lies (assuming that’s true). If you discount her past, you’d also have to discount his past … which is great in theory, just take the case on its merits. Because someone did a crime (rape, murder, fraud) in the past doesn’t mean they did it this time. But then you’re stuck with a situation where there’s no reason to believe one over the other, and given “innocent until proven guilty” he walks. The reason the past is taken into consideration for both accusers and accused is because in so many cases there’s no way to tell, and the court system really doesn’t want everyone walking.

    Given two accounts, both of which come from people who’ve proven untrustworthy in the past, why would you discount one person’s past and not the others? Until these lies, looking into the past was to her advantage – he’s got a history. Now she’s got a history too, and it may be a wash.

  22. Given two accounts, both of which come from people who’ve proven untrustworthy in the past, why would you discount one person’s past and not the others? Until these lies, looking into the past was to her advantage – he’s got a history. Now she’s got a history too, and it may be a wash.

    I’m not saying that releasing Strauss-Kahn isa bad thing. What I’m saying is that there wasn’t anything I saw in the article that should have caused things to go from “this case is a slam dunk” to “this case is hopeless”. If it is a bad case now, it was always a bad case. So the question is what made the prosecuters so gung ho about the bad case before to wanting to sweep it under the rug now?

    I think what’s really changed is how much benefit they expect to get from her in other unrealted cases.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    The article highlights the criminal issues, but it seems like she’s mainly lying to keep from getting kicked out the country. She lied on her amnesty forms seems to be the gist of it. Maybe she should should be deported; I don’t know that it tells me whether or not she was raped.

    The bit about lying about what she did after the rape is troubling and relevant, but I believe studies have shown many rape victims will not report the crime immediately, but will try to normalize their experiences.

  24. george says:

    The bit about lying about what she did after the rape is troubling and relevant, but I believe studies have shown many rape victims will not report the crime immediately, but will try to normalize their experiences.

    That’s certainly possible. Its also possible that she needed time to make up her story. That’s the problem with these kinds of cases – we don’t know which of the two is telling the truth. All we have to go on is character, and both seem willing to lie for personal gain. At this point, if you ignore past behavior its a coin toss. If you include past behavior, its also a coin toss – in fact it’ll probably turn out that both are ultimately lying.

    Assuming that what we know today stands (and I wouldn’t bet a nickel on that), in his case, it might well be that he’ll be charged in France for past assaults, which would be a good thing. In her case it might well be that she’ll be deported, which would also be a good thing. Kind of ironic if it worked out that way, liars caught by their lies for past offenses.

  25. Eric Florack says:

    I’m not sure what your point is. The accuser in a he said, she said case has proven to be a monumental liar with criminal ties.

    OK, let’s imagine that this was a set-up…. a position with some validity. What then do we have? We have a player who played DSK because she knew how he’d react. How’d she know this? The reputation of the man. She did what she did because she knew he’d play his own part. I’m sorry, James, but I don’t see as there’s much of DSK’s rep to salvage.

  26. Eric Florack says:

    @Tano:

    Of course I doubted this would happen. How on earth could any rational person have been sure, beyond doubt, that this would happen?

    Rather simple, really. As we saw with Bubba Clinton, when there’s leftist to protect, the values expounded by the feminist left as regards sexual behavior tend to fall by the wayside.

  27. Eric Florack says:

    and still, there’s the small matter of the other women who came forward with accusations of their own.