Fordham Law


With Strauss-Kahn accuser's story now public, prosecutors continue complex probe behind scenes

Ian Weinstein in Global News, July 25, 2011

Media Source

NEW YORK — The hotel housekeeper accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her is telling her story publicly, she says, because she wants the former International Monetary Fund leader behind bars. But it's hard to say whether her striking move will help or hobble her goal.

Nafissatou Diallo is on a magazine cover and national television, telling her emotional and explicit story of being sexually attacked by Strauss-Kahn and pressing for him to be tried.

But while the interviews marked a dramatic turn in the public narrative surrounding the case, they may have far less impact on prosecutors' private investigation and deliberations about whether to keep pursuing her troubled case — a process that seems to be becoming, if anything, more complex as it heads toward an Aug. 1 court date.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment on Diallo's statements and remained mum about its plans Monday, as the hotel housekeeper's interviews aired on ABC's "Good Morning America" and appeared on newsstands in a Newsweek cover story. ABC News planned to broadcast more of its interview Monday night on "World News with Diane Sawyer," and Tuesday on "Nightline."

"I want justice. I want him to go to jail," Diallo told ABC News.

The former International Monetary Fund leader denies the attempted rape and other charges. His lawyers decried Diallo's interviews Monday as "a desperate distraction" from what prosecutors have said was her history of lies about her background and inconsistencies about her actions right after the alleged attack.

With her interviews, the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant ripped off the veil of privacy that authorities had kept around her. Prosecutors have provided her with housing and paid her daily expenses to keep her from the media maelstrom.

She defied prosecutors' conventional wisdom about accusers and alleged victims speaking publicly before a trial — it's generally seen as providing defence lawyers a lode of material to mine for inconsistencies and questions. Her move could widen a rift between prosecutors and their key witness, who hasn't spoken with them since late June while her lawyer called for a special prosecutor after the district attorney's office said it had developed doubts about her trustworthiness.

It's a daring and chancy strategic move for the maid and her lawyers, legal observers said.

"On the one hand, her lawyers felt they needed to up the ante because they feared the DA had lost his resolve," said Bradley Simon, a Manhattan criminal defence attorney and former federal prosecutor. "On the other hand, this has to make the DA's office quite unhappy. The more you talk, the more there's fodder for cross-examination and impeachment. That's a big problem."

The interviews also could make the prospect of pursuing the case less attractive to prosecutors simply because defence lawyers could paint her as a publicity-seeker, said Pace Law School professor and former Manhattan assistant prosecutor Bennett L. Gershman. Prosecutors could say, "she's already trying it in the court of public opinion," he said.

But however unhappy the DA's office or however insistent Diallo is that the case should go forward, her now-public account is only one among many elements prosecutors are considering as they determine what to do. Since they told a judge July 1 that she had a history of lying that had undermined the case, they have been reassessing evidence, analyzing the legal framework surrounding the case and gathering new information.

In one example, prosecutors met last week with a lawyer for a French writer who has accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her in 2003, an allegation Strauss-Kahn denies. While French authorities explore her complaint, Manhattan prosecutors also have asked about speaking with the writer herself, Tristane Banon, a person familiar with the case has said.

It's unclear whether that will happen or when. But with prosecutors still gathering information now, the Aug. 1 court date might not mark a final decision.

It may serve DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to take his time, said Fordham University School of Law professor Ian Weinstein.

The district attorney "has to be deliberate and be seen as deliberate," Weinstein said. "What would be the motivation to end it quickly?"

For Strauss-Kahn, of course, there is some motivation to press for an answer on whether on prosecutors plan to pursue the case. But it could be outweighed by a desire to give prosecutors more time to investigate, on the theory that the more they learn, the more likely they might be to drop the case.

In the meantime, defence lawyers Benjamin Brafman and William W. Taylor denounced Diallo Monday for waging "a media campaign intended to force a prosecutor to pursue charges against an innocent person, an innocent person from whom Ms. Diallo wants money."

ABC News said Diallo's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, had told the network Diallo plans to sue Strauss-Kahn. Thompson did not immediately respond to inquiries Monday from The Associated Press; he said in a statement Sunday that Strauss-Kahn's lawyers "have conducted an unprecedented smear campaign against the victim of a violent sexual attack."

Diallo was not paid in any way for her interview, according to her camp and ABC News; a Newsweek representative didn't immediately return a telephone call.

Adding details and her own voice to the basics authorities have given, Diallo said the former IMF leader grabbed and attacked her "like a crazy man" in his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite on May 14 as she implored him to stop. He pulled up her uniform dress, yanked down her pantyhose, forcefully grabbed her crotch and then gripped her head and forced her to perform oral sex, she said.

Before Sunday, Diallo's name had been reported by some French media outlets but not by major U.S. media, which generally protect the identities of people who say they've been sexually assaulted. The Associated Press does so unless the people agree to be named or identify themselves publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.

In the interviews, Diallo addresses some of the inconsistencies that already have rocked the case.

She testified to a grand jury that after the alleged attack, she cowered in a hallway and watched Strauss-Kahn leave, then told a supervisor. Prosecutors said earlier this month that she later told them she actually had gone on cleaning rooms before consulting her boss. Diallo told Newsweek she was disoriented and went into the rooms briefly before a supervisor appeared and asked why she was upset, but the maid denied changing her account.

Diallo also lied about her background, including by telling prosecutors an emotional story of being gang-raped in her homeland, they said. She told Newsweek she was raped by two soldiers but acknowledged she had embellished her life story on her 2003 asylum application; prosecutors have said she told them she repeated the lies to them to be consistent.