Many people in France are in a state of shock after learning today at dawn (French time) that Dominique Strauss-Kahn—the brilliant French economist and politician at the head of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]—has been charged in connection with an alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York.
For several months, in opinion polls concerning candidates in next year's presidential election in France, I've been observing with pleasure the promising scores of DSK (as he's called in France). Hordes of French people have imagined, like me, that DSK, in the wake of his highly successful IMF job, would be an ideal successor to Nicolas Sarkozy. So, if ever DSK were to be found guilty in yesterday's affair, that would throw an enormous spanner into the works of the French Republic. For the moment, in the context of French legal culture, DSK is to be considered innocent, up until such time as he might be proven guilty. While respecting this formal assumption of innocence (which is obligatory here in France), we're forced to admit that the damage to DSK's aspirations seems to have been done already, rapidly and irremediably. It's hard to imagine how he might bounce back into respectability after being charged in such an affair.
Worse, since this morning, French media have been acting as though they had received a green light enabling them to publish gossip on DSK's reputation as a womanizer. The most damning accusations come from a young journalist and novelist named Tristane Banon, who alleges that DSK attempted to rape her in 2002. There's a video on the Internet in which this young woman, in 2007, provided all the details of this incident to a group of Parisian celebrities gathered around the TV journalist Thierry Ardisson. In this video, we hear Tristane Banon describing DSK as behaving like "a sexually-excited chimpanzee". Apparently, the young woman refrained from reporting this incident to the police because her mother, Anne Mansouret, was (and still is) a prominent member of the same political party as DSK. Today, for the first time, Tristane Banon has revealed publicly the details of this alleged rape attempt, in which she names DSK explicitly. So, independently of the US affair, the French authorities are likely to take up tardily this affair of 2002.
Clearly, we need to start thinking about other possible left-wing candidates for next year's presidential election.
BREAKING NEWS: Here in France, the dignity of most commentators concerning the affair has been exemplary. The ugliest exception was Marine Le Pen, of the extreme right-wing Front National, who seems to assume that DSK is guilty. Even political opponents of DSK, such as Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporters, have avoided scrupulously the trap of talking as if DSK were guilty. That's to say, most commentators are respecting assiduously the presumption of DSK's innocence. Moreover, many observers who are familiar with the personality and behavior of DSK express their utter incredulity concerning the Manhattan affair. One doesn't need to be an enthusiast of conspiracy theories to imagine that there might be individuals, out in the wide world, who would like to bring DSK down, as it were. Such people could be motivated by matters at an IMF level, or maybe at a French political level. Even the alleged rape incident that I have mentioned above (concerning Tristane Banon) would need to be examined scrupulously from every angle. So, it's too early to express any kind of negative judgment concerning DSK. Meanwhile, we learn that he has entrusted his defense to two prominent US lawyers: William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman.