The past eighteen hours have seen a whole crop of new information and allegations coming out of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. They've also seen a shift in the way the defendant and his accuser are viewed. Strauss-Kahn is free from house arrest on his own recognizance and his bail will be refunded. Meanwhile, his accuser has now been charged with lying, not only by the defense team, but by the prosecution as well, and in an official court document at that. The court posted a letter today in which Vance's team describes to the prosecution a litany of lies the accuser allegedly told, both about the attempted rape case and unrelated details from her own background that it says make her an unreliable witness. Her lawyer, meanwhile, said the prosecution's attempt to discredit her came not from an honest search for justice, as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance claimed today, but because Vance was "scared of losing another case." In his remarks outside the New York State Supreme Court today, lawyer Kenneth Thompson addressed the charges put forth in the prosecution's letter. Here we'll unpack the two major claims from that communique, and catalog the defense's response.
The claim: The maid lied to the grand jury when she said she had left Dominique Strauss-Kahn's suite immediately after the alleged assault. According to the letter today, she originally told the grand jury that she went to a common area on the 28th floor and waited for Strauss-Kahn to leave his room after the alleged attack, then called her supervisor. But she later reversed her story and said she had cleaned another room. The implication, aside from the charge that she lied, is that she wasn't too disturbed by having just been assaulted.
The rebuttal: Thompson did not directly address the charge that the accuser had lied about what she did after the assault, but he said she had been consistent in her description of what happened during the alleged attack. "The victim, from day one, has described a violent sexual assault that Dominique Strauss-Kahn committed against her. And she has never once changed a single thing about that account. The DA knows that, that was true the day it happened, it is true today. Now, this is important: the only defense that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has is that this sexual encounter was consensual. That is a lie."
The claim: A large portion of the prosecution's letter focuses on the fact that the accuser lied in her application for political asylum when she was immigrating from Guinea. The letter refers to her claim that she was beaten and raped by soldiers, and her husband tortured and killed, and that she fled Guinea for the United States out of fear for her own life. It says she admitted to lying about the substance and details of those claims, but is vague about exactly how she lied, and what happened instead.
The rebuttal: In his remarks today, Thompson pointed out that it was the accuser who first brought up her asylum proceeding with the prosecution. "She told me that she wanted to tell the district attorney the truth about how she first came to this country and other matters," he said. He then said she was a victim of genital mutilation, "It happened to her in Africa against her wishes, and she was very concerned that a young daughter she gave birth to in Africa would have to endure female genital mutilation." That's why she fled to the United States, he said. He also said she was, in fact, raped by soldiers in Guinea, but not in the way she stated in her asylum application.
Other claims, and what hasn't been said:
The prosecution also charged that the accuser had been dishonest about filing her taxes, and that she had lied "about a variety of additional topics concerning her history, background, present circumstances and personal relationships."
This letter, as well as the unofficial reports leaked to The New York Times last night, which say the accuser consorted with criminals, is aiming to discredit her as a witness, so that when and if she takes the stand she won't be considered believable. But it's worth pointing out that neither the prosecutor nor the defense has explicitly said she lied about the actual attack. At least the prosecution hasn't, and the defense has only gone so far as to suggest it was a consensual sexual encounter. In the end, the charges remain unaltered, and the prosecution has so far maintained that it will stand by them. The New Yorker's Judith Thurman pointed out in a blog post today that the back-and-forth about the accuser's truthfulness about her past ammounted to putting her on trial as well as Strauss-Kahn.
It will now be very difficult, if not impossible, to put this woman on a witness stand. And it may well be that a gross injustice to Strauss-Kahn has been perpetrated. But, as it stands now, the moral of this murky story is that bad things happen to all kinds of people. He was convicted by public opinion on the basis of his prior sexual history as a roué. She is now being convicted on the basis of her “inconsistencies.” But I find it depressing that, in 2011, a woman is presumed guilty if she isn’t innocent.
If the prosecution drops its case, as Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have suggested it will do, there won't be any way for the accuser to vindicate her claims. However, she still has a recourse in the civil court, where she could sue Strauss-Kahn and the Sofitel Hotel. Strauss-Kahn's next court date is set for July 18, but you never know what could happen between now and then.