Only two people know what went down in a Manhattan hotel suite in May between the plutocrat and the impecunious maid: Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nafissatou Diallo. Was there a rape? Consensual sex? Neither?
At its core, this is a garden-variety criminal case. A complaining witness, Ms. Diallo, called the police and cried "rape." She said a hotel patron forced herself on her. She claimed he forced her to have oral sex. Presumably, there is DNA evidence to support the claim that Strauss-Kahn ejaculated. Prosecutors call that corroboration. In the blinking of a prosecutorial eye, Ms. Diallo was transformed from a mere complaining witness into a "victim."
Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a contender for the presidency of France, became a defendant just that fast. He is not merely a geriatric lecher. No, he is a criminal, a sexual predator. On the mere word of a single complaining witness, Strauss-Kahn was incarcerated, held out to the world as a criminal, and effectively ruined.
Again, nothing unusual about this. It happens all the time. The word of a single witness, if believed, is enough to convict a man of the most horrendous of crimes.
It now turns out that Ms. Diallo has a track record as a liar. She lied about her immigration status. She lied on federal tax forms. She lied about being the victim of an earlier rape. She just might be a gold-digger looking for easy money from Strauss-Kahn.
These sorts of background issues are not uncommon in rape cases. As prosecutors like to say, and it is true, even prostitutes can be raped. No, after all, means no, even if the word is uttered from the bruised lips of a liar.
Manhattan prosecutors have summoned Ms. Diallo and her lawyer to a meeting on Monday, in anticipation of Tuesday’s scheduled court date for Dominique-Strauss. It is expected that prosecutors will tell Ms. Diallo of their intention to dismiss the case against Strauss-Kahn. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., thinks this is the right thing to do. He vows to do the right thing, he says. Give me a break.
Forgive me for calling Vance an officious nitwit in a tailored suit: he’s playing the class card here, as in money, power and prestige matter. If you have enough money, enough power, and enough prestige, why a case against you might just be dropped. Pity the legions of poor fools in Manhattan who don’t have Strauss-Kahn’s clout, and whose single-witness cases will limp along to jury trials on facts not dissimilar from those present in this case.
Cyrus Vance Jr. is a well-bred flash in the pan. His father is the former Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter, and the occupant of senior positions in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. A graduate of Yale College and the Georgetown University Law Center, Vance has never had to ladle his gruel with anything other than the silver spoon of his daddy’s legacy. Doors opened to the Vance name that might otherwise have remained closed. Indeed, he even fled Manhattan for Seattle from 1988 to 2004 in an effort to escape from his father’s shadow. It didn’t work. When Robert Morgenthau announced his retirement as D.A., Vance was there, eyes on the prize. I suspect his father’s connections, clout and cash opened many doors to this warrior for the leisure class.
I do not think the Strauss-Kahn prosecution should have been brought in the first instance. I think it far too easy for a single witness to cry rape. Yet the law is that a single witness is enough. It is enough to convict a poor man, even a middle class man. Is it enough to convict a rich man? A rich man with powerful friends? An international politico who must have known the father of the prosecutor? The sort of privileged tycoon moving behind the scenes, playing master of the universe the rest of inhabit?
The fact of the matter is that Ms. Diallo’s mere allegation yields probable cause for an arrest. Hence the arrest. She is now determined to be a liar about things extrinsic to the claim of rape. Some, perhaps all, of these lies will be admissible in a trial against Strauss-Kahn. Just what a jury will do with this tawdry mess is an open question. Tumble into a Manhattan courtroom this week and odds are you will see just this sort of case being presented to a jury. Vance is telling us, however, now to expect these cases to advance against the rich and powerful. Only little people go to prison on such claims.
A man without Strauss-Kahn’s clout and connections would be told to go to trial. The state would not back down because a "victim" had come forward. Unless the victim recants in such a case, or reliable evidence is found to suggest that the crime could not have taken place - e.g., the complaining victim was in Toledo at the very moment she claims rape in New York – the case advances. So long as a victim claims rape, these cases typically go to trial, win, lose or draw for the parties. Many are the prosecutor who shrugs a shoulder and sighs: "Let the jury decide."
Strauss-Kahn is being given the privileged white man’s treatment. He is being given this treatment by a District Attorney who is to the manor born. Much though Vance may try to claim that he is conscience-stricken about justice in this case, I can see no reason why a wealthy man is entitled to more justice than a cab driver, a policeman or a the unemployed defendant accused of taking what was not offered with a glad and willing heart.
If Cyrus Vance Jr. drops this case, his next act ought to be to tender his resignation. He looks like the same sort of prevaricator who concluded that the nation’s mortgage pirates were too big to fail. We bailed these bankers out with tax dollars and then watched themselves use our tax dollars to give themselves big bonuses. Screw the little people; we’re just props in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Strauss-Kahn? Why he’s apparently too big – no pun intended – to fail, too. So let’s kick Ms. Diallo to the curb, perhaps deport her, too. The nerve of her making such a claim against a rich white man, the very sort of man Cyrus Vance Sr. once counted as a close friend.
Probable cause is probable cause. If the Strauss-Kahn case is dismissed, then so too should the cases against men of lesser means whose alleged victims are known to have lied, cheated and dreamed of easy access to a banker’s wealth. That would be justice. The only way Vance can save what remains of his reputation is to announce a general policy against the prosecution of single-witness claims. Anything else looks like the pin-striped version of class warfare.