Strauss-Kahn Concedes ‘Error’ in Sexual Encounter With Maid
By STEVEN ERLANGER and MAÏA de la BAUME
Back in France, Strauss-Kahn Is Eye of Media Tornado (September 5, 2011)
Times Topic: Dominique Strauss-Kahn
In his first interview since his May 14 arrest on charges of attempted rape, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was uncomfortable, intermittently angry and sounded bitter, saying that he had wanted to run for the French presidency and had missed his “appointment with the French people” because of his own actions.
“I wanted to be a candidate. I thought I could be useful. All that is behind me,” he said.
He accused the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, of lying about what happened between them, and accused a Paris novelist, Tristane Banon, of lying about what she said happened between them in 2003, which she has described as an attempted rape — a case still being investigated by the Paris prosecutor.
He called Ms. Banon’s allegations “imaginary and slanderous,” although according to press reports in L’Express of his testimony to the police, he did admit to having made a pass at her and trying to kiss her. But he insisted Sunday that he did not, as she claimed, throw her to the ground, try to undress her and put his hand in her underwear.
“In this encounter, there was no act of aggression or violence,” he said.
The interview on Sunday evening was carefully orchestrated and felt as if it had been almost rehearsed. Mr. Strauss-Kahn said what he wished, arranging to speak live to his wife’s close friend, the anchor Claire Chazal on TF1, the most popular French channel. Ms. Chazal also looked uncomfortable, her arms crossed, and was not aggressive in her questioning.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, did not describe what happened with Ms. Diallo, except to insist that the encounter did not involve violence, constraint or aggression. But he appeared to have been shaken by what happened afterward, saying that he was “afraid, very afraid” in the days after his arrest, in which the New York police hauled him off an airplane just minutes before it was to take off for Paris on May 14. “When you are caught in the jaws of this machine, you have the impression that it can crush you. I was humiliated before I could even say a word in my defense.”
In the end, the New York prosecutors decided not to bring a case against him, saying Ms. Diallo lacked credibility and had a history of fabrication.
Even as Mr. Strauss-Kahn admitted to his bad behavior, he did so with gritted teeth. The words were regretful but the tone was combative. The liaison with Ms. Diallo, who is suing him in a civil court in New York, “was not only an inappropriate relationship, but more than that, it was an error,” he said.
“I think it was a moral failing, and I’m not proud of it,” he continued. “It was a failing, a failing vis-à-vis my wife, my children and my friends, but also a failing vis-à-vis the French people, who had vested their hopes for change in me.”
He said: “I am not proud of it. I regret it infinitely. I have regretted it every day for the past four months, and I think I’m not done regretting it.”
But he did not discuss, nor was he asked, about the presumably consensual sexual relationship the police have said he had the night before with another woman, caught on the hotel’s video recorders.
And he gave vent to his anger with Ms. Diallo and his own theory that he might have been the victim of some plot to take advantage of his own moral failings. He said that he had not ruled out that the sexual act with Ms. Diallo and what followed “could be a trap,” he said. “A plot? We’ll see.” He spoke angrily about Ms. Diallo, suggesting that she was after money and saying, without much explanation, that the role of money in the American judicial system was “shocking.”
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, also commented on the continuing Greek financial crisis, for which emergency meetings were taking place on Sunday. He said that Greece’s large debt, which has been the initial cause of the long-running euro crisis, should be sharply reduced. The problem is that European actions, he said, are “too little, too late.” As for Greece, he said, “It’s necessary to recognize that it’s necessary to take the loss.” The debt had to be reduced “at any cost,” he said, “except at the cost of stagnation and recession.” He said he did not think the euro was in peril, but the situation was very serious.
Now, he said, he would take time to reflect on his own future.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s own love for luxury, including an expensive townhouse in Manhattan and a truffled pasta meal on his first night out of house arrest, had shocked many French, who do not like their Socialists to have too great a taste, at least in public, for lavish living. Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s third wife, Anne Sinclair, is extremely rich and bankrolled her husband’s bail and defense.
There was also criticism of the television station’s agreement to do the interview with Ms. Chazal, who did not recuse herself. The station rejected the criticism and said it was simply interested in the news value of the interview.
“It was an extremely well-achieved communication exercise, with carefully chosen moments of repentance and emotions,” said Christophe Barbier, a commentator and chief editor of the weekly magazine L’Express, after the interview.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn was not pushed very hard, he suggested, saying, “We will never know now what happened in that hotel room.”
Ms. Diallo’s French lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, branded the interview “a public relations exercise, without any spontaneity, neither in the questions nor the replies — scripted down to each gesture.” A columnist at the left-leaning newspaper Libération, Jean Quatremer, spoke sarcastically of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s carefully modulated admissions. “He has been perfect,” Mr. Quatremer said. “He sounded like someone who had committed a nine-minute, small adultery.”
There were demonstrators outside the TF1 building who shouted “Shame on you!” at Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Most of them were women, and some carried signs saying, “When a woman says no, it’s no!” Another read: “What’s seduction for you?” A feminist group called “Le Barbe,” or the beard, known for ironic protests and wearing false beards at demonstrations, had called for protests “in support of the Great White Men and their virile traditions.”
Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Monday, September 19, 2011.