Human Nature

DSK’s Defense

Dominique Strauss-Kahn says the New York district attorney cleared him of sexual violence. Is that true?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Last night on TF1, a French TV channel, Dominique Strauss-Kahn answered questions about the withdrawn sexual assault case against him in New York. Strauss-Kahn argued that the district attorney’s report on the evidence, filed as a motion to dismiss the case, exonerates him. Is that true?

Let’s take Strauss-Kahn’s assertions one by one.

1. His accuser lied about everything. “The DA said Nafissatou Diallo lied on everything,” Strauss-Kahn told interviewer Claire Chazal, according to the dubbed English translation. “The report says she came up with so many different versions of what happened that he [the DA] cannot believe a word. He says that ‘in every single interview we had with her, she lied to us.’ ” Strauss-Kahn added that prosecutors said “it was surrealistic to see how in one interview she denied having said what she said in the previous interview. So the entire story is fabricated.”

The DA’s report doesn’t say Diallo’s story was fabricated. But as to her credibility, it largely fits Strauss-Kahn’s description. It says, “In virtually every substantive interview with prosecutors, despite entreaties to simply be truthful, she has not been truthful, on matters great and small, many pertaining to her background and some relating to the circumstances of the incident itself.” Whether the evidence presented in the report substantiates the conclusion that she “lied on everything” is another matter.

2. There was no evidence of injury. “You have to read carefully the public prosecutor’s report,” Strauss-Kahn told Chazal. “If you look at the official report, there’s no scratches, no violence, no injury, neither on herself nor on me.”

Actually, the report extensively discusses shoulder pain that Diallo reported when she was brought in for examination. The shoulder pain is highly relevant, given her claim of forced oral sex while resisting with her arm. The report says Diallo “was determined to have suffered a muscle strain and contusion.” But it concludes that “the shoulder injury does not support the claim of sexual assault charged in the indictment.” And as my colleagues Cecile Dehesdin and Jean-Marie Pottier report in, the report finds that while sexual contact occurred, “All of the evidence that might be relevant to the contested issues of force and lack of consent is simply inconclusive.”

3. Diallo said the case was all about money. Strauss-Kahn told Chazal:

You may remember the sentence spoken between Nafissatou Diallo and her boyfriend in the jail in Arizona: “This man has got money, I know what I’m doing.” Kenneth Thompson, the lawyer of the plaintiff, claimed that because this was spoken in Fulani, an African language, there was an error in translation. The DA says this: He had a second translator come along, and the second translator confirmed the same. It was all about money.

The sentence Strauss-Kahn quoted—”This guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing”—didn’t appear in the DA’s report. It appeared in the New York Times as a paraphrase, not a quote, and it was attributed only to a “well-placed law enforcement official.” After Thompson heard the recording of the phone call and told reporters that the money-making talk came from the boyfriend, not Diallo, the DA’s office rephrased the accusation in the passive voice. The DA’s report says Diallo “had a recorded conversation with her incarcerated fiancé, in which the potential for financial recovery in relation to the May 14, 2011 incident was mentioned.” The report confirms that a second translator was enlisted, and it says “both translations are materially similar in their discussion of making money with the assistance of a civil lawyer.” But it conspicuously fails to repeat the initial insinuation that Diallo herself brought up or pursued the money angle. And the report’s vague reference to money being “mentioned” certainly doesn’t substantiate Strauss-Kahn’s allegation that the case “was all about money.”

4. There was no forcible contact. “What happened includes no violence, no forcible contact, no assault, no misdemeanor, no crime,” Strauss-Kahn told Chazal. “That’s what the public prosecutor said.” (Dehesdin translates his statement slightly differently: “What happened did not comprise any violence, any constraint, any attack nor any misdemeanor.”)

Not quite. The DA’s report doesn’t say there was no force or violence. It says “the nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter.” Later, the report says “we cannot be sufficiently certain of what actually happened. … Our grave concerns about the complainant’s reliability make it impossible to resolve the question of what exactly happened.”

Two more things in the TF1 interview are worth noting. First, when Chazal asked Strauss-Kahn whether he had paid for sex with Diallo, he replied: “No, this was not a situation where I paid for sex. But there was a weakness.” This answer leaves unclear whether, as cynics speculated, Diallo offered him sex, expecting compensation, and then got angry afterward when he gave her nothing.

Second, Chazal asked Strauss-Kahn about his 2003 interview with French journalist Tristane Banon. Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her  in that interview. In his official biography, Strauss-Kahn claimed the interview “took place normally.” But last week, L’Express reported that Strauss-Kahn told investigators he tried to kiss Banon and was rejected. On TF1, when Chazal asked Strauss-Kahn for his version of the incident, he replied that he had told investigators the truth: “I said that in this encounter, there’s just no assault, violence. I won’t say more than that.” So it seems his account of the Banon incident has shifted to fit the evidence while still denying a crime. In the Diallo incident, the DNA evidence made an initial blanket denial of impropriety impossible.

Did Strauss-Kahn assault these women? I wouldn’t convict him based on the evidence presented so far. I wouldn’t exonerate him, either.