On the Sunday in May that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the time the head of the International Monetary Fund, either attempted to rape, or propositioned, or was conned by the African chambermaid who had come to clean his room in the midtown Sofitel—the notion that this brief encounter was purely consensual is too preposterous to even take under consideration—his distinguished wife, Anne Sinclair, was shopping for shoes in Paris’s 16th Arrondissement. Sinclair, a petite 63-year-old with bright-blue eyes and raven locks, her lips always curled in the sort of bemused smile one makes after an inside joke, stopped for a while at Castañer, the Catalonian espadrille maker that inspired Yves Saint Laurent in the sixties to make this woven-straw country-folk shoe into an emblem of city chic. According to Madame DSK, a biography by Catherine Rambert and L’Express editor Renaud Revel published last week in France that includes a detailed account of Sinclair’s evening, Sinclair was there for half an hour, trying on a few different pairs of $400 and $500 shoes, but then hurried out. As usual, she had a full social calendar that night, and she didn’t want to be late.
Sinclair, an extraordinarily wealthy art-world heiress and a pillar of European Jewish society, was born in New York, but she didn’t like the U.S. much. Though she bought a $4 million townhouse in Georgetown for Strauss-Kahn after he took over as head of the IMF, she found D.C. dull and resisted socializing there. She preferred the $5.5 million penthouse with Versailles-style parquet floors she had purchased on the Place des Vosges in Paris. Strauss-Kahn was happiest at their ryad in the palm-grove district of Marrakech, to the north of the port city where he grew up as a French Jew; his neighbors there include a bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, Fiat’s Marella Agnelli, and frequent visitors like their friend Stéphane Fouks, the head of publicity firm Euro RSCG, who has also acted as Strauss-Kahn’s publicist. “Dominique supervised the plumbing and electricity when we renovated the house,” Sinclair has said. “But these days, the ryad is very often occupied by our children. It could almost have a waiting list!”
The funds for these homes were supplied by Sinclair: Strauss-Kahn’s annual $420,000 salary from the IMF, kingly though it may sound, was not enough to support the couple’s high-flying lifestyle. Once a renowned celebrity and political interviewer on French television, with importance in her own right, these days Sinclair preferred that her power accrue to her husband. She was older now and aware that her place was behind the scenes. In fact, this day, she was expecting to become a grandmother for the first time—her first marriage, to a journalist, produced two sons (Elie, the youngest, was named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a close friend), and one of them was expecting a child to be born into his family within a couple of days. She hoped that Strauss-Kahn, back from the U.S. tomorrow, would make the occasion, too.
But as Sinclair dressed for her evening event—the surprise birthday party for an old friend, Parisian singer Patrick Bruel—she received a call from her husband. There was a tightness in his voice. He spoke of a “serious problem” in New York, but said he couldn’t talk about it right now, adding that he had lost his IMF-issued cell phone. He wanted to know if Sinclair could reach out to Fouks. Then he got off the phone. Sinclair was concerned but thought he was likely referring to a political problem. Now that he was close to announcing his candidacy for the presidency of France—he was running 20 percent ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy in a recent poll by Paris Match, with Sinclair polling at double the likability of Carla Bruni—Sinclair was always paranoid that someone was gunning for her husband, trying to take him down.
Sinclair set up a meeting for him with Fouks for the following day, then joined Jean Frydman, the Buchenwald survivor and financier, for dinner before entering the surprise party around 11 p.m. Despite protestations, she stayed only a little while, saying she had to pick up Strauss-Kahn at the airport at 6 a.m. It was almost midnight when she folded herself into a taxi and her phone rang again. But this time, she learned the true nature of the problem—and exactly how personal it was.
That night, Sinclair stayed up until dawn, according to Rambert and Revel, calling everyone she knew who was connected in New York. Her close friend Maurice Lévy, the CEO of Publicis, the world’s third-largest ad agency, began calling top U.S. lawyers for Strauss-Kahn’s representation. A publicist from Euro RSCG came over to the house, advising Sinclair to pack her bags before French reporters began to descend on the street below her penthouse; by 2 a.m., she’d left for Frydman’s home. There she learned that Strauss-Kahn was most likely going to end up in jail; then she “howled in pain, a long moan, like a stunned animal,” according to the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. Her ex-husband, the journalist, called at 5 a.m., after hearing about the arrest during preparations for his morning radio show. A friend answered and said Sinclair couldn’t even form words at this point.
According to Rambert and Revel, the American lawyers, William Taylor, from D.C., and Ben Brafman, the media-savvy New York son of Holocaust survivors, called her shortly afterward with news: Her husband was going to be charged with the attempted rape of a poor chambermaid who only wanted to clean the rich man’s toilet and was instead defiled by his untrammeled lust, her stockings torn off as she tried to escape before succumbing to his power in an act of forced oral sex. He had left the hotel quickly, toothpaste smeared across his lips, hightailing it across town for lunch with his daughter, a political-science grad student at Columbia, and then to JFK, where he lumbered into the business-class cabin of an Air France flight. There, he may have also complimented a stewardess’s bottom—“Quel beau cul!”—a remark preserved for posterity in the Post under the headline booty gaul. The bail for Strauss-Kahn was set at $6 million, which was not a problem for Sinclair, who wired the $1 million in cash required to the courthouse. And the lawyers had another request: She should make a statement of support for Strauss-Kahn, so that the world would know exactly where she stood. Sinclair thought about the composition for a while, then sat down to write. “I don’t believe for a single second the accusations of sexual assault by my husband,” she wrote. “I am certain his innocence will be proven.”
In an ordinary marriage, one of the dramas in this situation would certainly have been: Is it true? And if so, should she leave him? But this was framed as a political crisis. The war room, rather than the bedroom, may be the most important place in the Strauss-Kahn household. From the beginning, the story of what really happened in room 2806 has been a media battle, and Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn are among the suavest players of that sport in the world. They remained silent as initial reports, almost certainly leaked by the prosecuting attorneys, came out about the victim: She was a widow, a single mother, a devout Muslim and daughter of an imam, an illiterate victim of genital mutilation who’d grown up in a mud hut—she might even wear a head scarf! Soon, Strauss-Kahn was led up to the guillotine during his court appearances; hundreds of maids from measly countries around the world, their ill-fitting dark dresses cinched with frilly white belts, gathered to raise fists and chant: “Shame on you! Shame on you!” New Yorkers agreed that they had never seen a more guilty man than the “Horny Toad,” the “IMF Pig.” In fact, as the tabloids had it, he was on a “sex binge” in the city that weekend, during which he hit on a VIP hostess and Sofitel receptionist (he offered to share a complimentary bottle of Dom Pérignon with them in his suite, a $3,000 room that was nonetheless reportedly discounted to $525 that night because he is a very important man) and was even caught on videotape entering the hotel the night before the alleged attack with a blonde banker with whom he supposedly has a standing fuck-buddy relationship.
A great tabloid story could have ended there. But there was more, much more, to come. The investigators for Strauss-Kahn turned up all sorts of information on the maid, and she didn’t impress the D.A.’s office either, which was starting to wonder if they had been seduced by the opportunity to heroically demonstrate that a chambermaid had the same rights as one of the most powerful men on Earth. As it turned out, the victim’s boyfriend was in jail in Arizona after bartering Chinese counterfeit clothing for 400 pounds of marijuana. Over $100,000 had been run through her bank accounts, potentially as a way to launder money. She had declared another child as a dependent to lower her taxes and lied about her salary to keep her subsidized housing in the Bronx. And, most notably, her asylum application to the U.S. included the story of a gang rape that she now admitted was a fabrication. She may not be a prostitute—when the New York Post reported that, her lawyers hit back with a libel suit—but she seemed to be a bit more familiar with cons than the usual immigrant doing what one had to do to make ends meet in America. “No one in the D.A.’s office gives a shit about her lying on government forms,” says a source close to the situation. “What they care about is that after the Strauss-Kahn incident, she sat and told government investigators, with tears, shaking, and conviction, a detailed account of her gang-rape in Guinea. Then she said it never happened. She was an incredibly convincing liar.”
Did Nafissatou Diallo look like she was not telling the whole truth on ABC News last week, when she revealed her identity to tell her story to Robin Roberts (she also gave an interview to Tina Brown of Newsweek)? I’m sorry to report that she did. It’s terribly humiliating for a woman to tell the world she has been sexually abused, which is part of why rape victims deserve the benefit of the doubt, but still, the dramatic hand gestures, the rolling tears, the beating of her breast as she insisted that, as “God is my witness, I’m telling the truth”—it was all a bit rich and clearly calculated as a last-ditch effort to get the D.A.’s office to bring the case, even though it had lost faith. Diallo’s young African-American lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, a former federal prosecutor who represented Abner Louima, has made no friends in this drama; even Ken Sunshine, the PR heavy he hired as an adviser, has largely sat back as Thompson has insisted on running this as his own show. “Thompson has one motivation in this situation: to get paid, and he doesn’t get a dime unless Diallo gets some money,” says a source. “He is working 100 percent on contingency.” A source says Thompson will receive one third of any settlement for Diallo (Thompson says this is “a lie”) and notes that he needs the criminal case to move forward in hopes of a large civil settlement. Thompson says he is filing the suit shortly, and though he hasn’t decided how much he will sue Strauss-Kahn for yet, it will likely be in the many millions of dollars. “Nafi is filing this suit because she wants to assert her dignity as a woman, and she has every right to do so,” says Thompson. “And let me tell you another thing: Almost every night, she and her daughter cry themselves to sleep.”
To press his case, Thompson has also called for Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance to recuse himself, stirred up questions about whether there has been pillow talk in the marriage between one of Vance’s prosecutors and a lawyer for Brafman, and even appeared at a D.A. office meeting with the equally publicity-seeking lawyer for Tristane Banon, a beautiful Parisian who has filed charges in France of attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn, who came at her, she has said, like a “rutting chimpanzee” eight years ago. Banon is known in Paris as a moderately employed journalist and the author of a series of semi-autobiographical books, one about a childhood spent with a “beautiful manipulator” of a mother who bore her out of wedlock and whom she used to despise, and another titled Daddy Frenzy, about her own father—like Strauss-Kahn, a Moroccan Jew—who abandoned her, she says, the day she was born. Last week, Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, a backbencher in Socialist circles, declared that she too had had consensual sex with Strauss-Kahn in an office ten years ago (though he also made his approach with the “obscenity of a brutish soldier”), rendering this situation even more … confusing.
And where is Strauss-Kahn? He’s still in Tribeca, in the $50,000-a-month townhouse that Sinclair rented. She had originally set up refuge in a luxurious Upper East Side condo but was booted by tenants unwilling to reside next to “Pepe Le Perv.” Stuffed between two tall cast-iron buildings, the townhouse looks like a dollhouse, even though it has four bedrooms spread over 6,800 square feet plus a basement screening room and a landscaped terrace on the roof, which Strauss-Kahn has covered with some umbrellas to hide from lookie-loos. A group of international paparazzi, usually about a dozen or so, rush across the cobblestone street once or twice a day when Strauss-Kahn’s beefy arm opens the frosted glass door for registered mail or a food delivery, but the rest of his body often remains blurred, making the pictures unusable. The French guys, most of whom are being put up at the Soho Grand, wear clear-colored earpieces and work in a pack, ready to give chase. “It’s not so bad—get up early, have some eggs at the Grand hotel,” says one. “Then walk over here. And wait. And watch.”
This purgatory of boredom and stunning summer heat is punctuated only by occasional passersby: A woman on a bicycle shouts, “Checking out the criminal, huh,” as she careers by; a series of French tourists, their backpacks decorated with mini baseball mitts bought at Yankees games, take pictures while pretending to ring the townhouse’s bell (though we have been told that for the French, a man’s private life is supposed to remain private, they seem to be acting quite differently). “He is innocent, of course,” they say. “He is much too clever a man to be caught like that.” A feminist holds court: “What we have here is rape culture, where a woman says ‘I was raped’ and then the media starts asking questions—what was she doing, has she had sex with people before, was she wearing a short skirt, was she a prostitute? We think prostitutes can’t be raped, but they can.”
Even Kirstie Alley, who is living in an apartment next door, makes an appearance. She crawls on to her fire escape with a cigarette, making sure that the paparazzi below get a shot of her book, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. An African-American pap takes a few pictures, because there’s nothing else going on, but then she starts yelling about her privacy being invaded, except she yells at the wrong black pap. “The other black guy is darker than me, and bald, and shorter, Ms. Alley,” shouts the other pap. “I’m not the same black guy.” He shakes his head. “But we all look alike, right?”
For Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn, the incident’s overtones of racism, sexism, and class warfare are a particularly surreal nightmare, since they have spent so much of their lives decrying inequality. Sinclair has said that ever since she was a young girl, “I didn’t want to be an heiress. I wanted to earn my own way.” In 1958, at the age of 10, she “found her vocation” when she began to follow reports of a French military victory in Algeria and vowed to become a journalist. The seminal French Socialist Pierre Mendès France was her idol, and she was aware of the need for the wealthy to support the lower classes. “I am privileged, it’s true, but are we not allowed to be of the left simply because we have money?” she has said. “I find the thought of joining the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement, a Gaullist party founded by then–French president Jacques Chirac in 2002] simply to defend one’s own wealth unbearable.”
Sinclair is the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, one of the most important French dealers of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. (Sinclair, who has written more than three dozen books, is currently researching one about his life.) His gallery, in the Boétie quarter of Paris, where most of the Jewish art dealers sold their wares before the Nazi occupation, was the first established dealer of Picasso, whom he met when Picasso was on his honeymoon with his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Koklova. The artist made many portraits of Rosenberg’s family, beginning with Portrait of Madame Paul Rosenberg and Her Daughter, in which his wife holds Sinclair’s mother, Micheline, in her white nightgown, on a straight-backed Louis XIII chair (in a letter, Rosenberg told Picasso that Micheline’s chubby form made the painting “Roundist,” not “Cubist”).
From the first, the Strauss-Kahns saw the maid’s accusations as a political crisis.
When the Nazis began to gain power, it soon became clear that Rosenberg’s dream—that he and his descendants would create a dynasty of ever-more-powerful art dealers—was in a great deal of peril. According to Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art, he moved many of his paintings, though he kept Picasso’s portraits of his family because he couldn’t bear to part with them. Rosenberg eventually escaped to America across the Spanish border, though his son Alexandre was seized there by French officials because he was of age for the draft; over 400 paintings in his collection, which were to be shipped to the U.S. by a goyische assistant, were taken by the Nazis (the informant was a rival dealer, who took a 10 percent commission). His beautiful home and gallery were turned into a French branch of the infamous Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.
Luck turned in 1944, though, when Alexandre, now a lieutenant, happened to receive orders to commandeer a train bound for Germany with hundreds of paintings on it, many of which belonged to his father. With some, though not all, of his collection repatriated, Rosenberg opened a gallery in midtown and then on East 79th Street. Micheline married a cosmetics executive, another French Jew who fled the country for New York during the war (in the U.S., he changed his name from Schwartz to Sinclair). But everyone pined for the mother country, and a few years after Anne was born, the family moved back to France.
“I was a very lucky girl in there—my life was perfect,” Sinclair has said. “If I was lonely, I devoured Dumas or Proust, and as a young adult Zweig or Albert Cohen, or listened to La Traviata and Faust.” New York receded into memories. “New York is for me a city about which I have very moving thoughts,” she has written. “I remember arriving from France after several days crossing the Atlantic onboard the Queen Mary, after a short stopover in Ireland, in the mists of the Hudson: the most beautiful of journeys.”
Sinclair’s childhood as an “overprotected only daughter,” so sheltered and stable, stands in contrast to Strauss-Kahn’s, where infidelity was part of the family fabric. According to Michel Taubmann’s biography The True Story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Strauss-Kahn grew up with his maternal grandfather living upstairs, decades after his wife, fed up with his straying ways, had left him. Things were even more complicated on the paternal side of his family, where a family secret explains the provenance of the hyphenate Strauss-Kahn: When Strauss-Kahn’s paternal grandfather Gaston Strauss fell ill and died, his wife married his cousin, Marius Kahn. “My father couldn’t bring himself to think of Marius as his father—he thought of him as a big brother,” Strauss-Kahn has said. “As revenge, I guess, I have always seen him as his grandfather.” In fact, his father dropped the “Kahn” from his name later in life and never bestowed it upon Strauss-Kahn, who took it in his twenties. “In my youth, I was called Strauss, like my father,” he has said. “But starting in the seventies, I changed to Strauss-Kahn. It was a way of demonstrating my attachment to my grandfather and also affirming my Jewish identity, which had been awakened by the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War.”
Strauss-Kahn’s parents had a rough marriage, too. His father, an attorney who moved them around from Africa to Paris to Monaco in search of clients, who never seemed to be plentiful, was manic-depressive and often seen around with a pretty thing on his arm. “My husband let himself be controlled by his demon of collecting [women] and nice slips,” Strauss-Kahn’s mother explained in her memoirs. “I suffered every time he went out looking, and sometimes I left with the children. Yet he always returned to me, each time more affectionate than before.” From his father, Strauss-Kahn learned that it was easy to make women do what you wanted, as long as you were firm. At 16, he fell in love for the first time with Hélène Dumas, a girl from his high school. “At the beginning, it wasn’t mutual,” Dumas has said. “He didn’t interest me terribly much. But Dominique was tenacious. When he wants something, he will not let go. So he got what he wanted.”
The couple was married a year later, while Strauss-Kahn was still in high school, and he applied to business school with the goal of entering the public sector. “I could have earned a fortune at the head of a private company,” he has said. “But I suffered too much in my youth from the perpetual precariousness of my father’s profession.” With anti-Gaullist politics that began as Marxist and turned Keynesian over time, he rose through the university ranks and found work as the Socialist Party’s economics commissioner, his first step up the political ladder. In 1983, he left Dumas for Brigitte Guillemette, the director of a PR company. With her help, he was transformed from a musty economist with a beard and thick glasses into a middling political player in tailored suits. But even Guillemette couldn’t take him to the top tier—for that, he would need Sinclair.
Sinclair began her career in radio, interviewing political figures and editing a newsletter for Mendès France on the side. She met her first husband, Ivan Levaï, the political chief of the station, and they began a love affair after he took her under his wing. She proved to be an empathetic interviewer and moved into TV in the seventies, eventually achieving her dream of hosting her own Charlie Rose–ish talk show, 7 sur 7, at the end of the decade, interviewing guests from Mikhail Gorbachev to Madonna. Her face was used as the model for a new bust of Marianne, the female emblem of the French Republic, that stood in many town halls. On her show, she never made a secret of her political leanings; when Chirac was prime minister, he once said to her onscreen, “Excuse me, Madame Sinclair, but let me give you a piece of advice: Turn to the right. One time does not make it a custom.”
Sinclair hosted Strauss-Kahn, then the president of France’s finance commission, on her monthly special in 1989. Both of them were still married, but Sinclair’s husband Levaï was working five days a week on a radio show in a faraway province. Strauss-Kahn asked her to lunch at a Parisian power restaurant, where they discussed their childhoods and Judaism while he loosened the knot of his tie, asking, “How come we never met each other earlier in our lives?” Unlike most of his seductions, with Sinclair, Strauss-Kahn was patient, and it was she, according to Rambert and Revel, who eventually broke down, sending him a love letter. They were married a year later in a ceremony so private that they requested a waiver from the government as a promise that photographs wouldn’t find their way into the press. (Levaï, who has said with some regret that “Elie Wiesel told me that when one has as beautiful a wife as Anne, one must stay near her,” has nevertheless claimed the breakup with Sinclair was amicable.)
When Strauss-Kahn became France’s finance minister, Sinclair decided to leave her position on television, claiming that she felt her work would be compromised by this personal partnership. It’s possible that she was making too much of crossing this ethical line, because her show, now over a decade old, was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, and at 50, she may have come to the end of her stardom, with no obvious place to land professionally afterward. She had become frustrated with the political class in France and didn’t want to stand on the sidelines any longer. “It is his fight, his life, and I will be by his side,” she declared later to Le Monde.
As their marriage evolved, Sinclair was Strauss-Kahn’s chief adviser and sounding board—but that’s not all. She also provided funds for Strauss-Kahn’s campaigns, including a large apartment on Rue Laplanche for a campaign headquarters, the secretaries, the website, the publicity account with Euro RSCG. “Strauss-Kahn is widely considered intelligent and often described as brilliant, but when you look back on it, he hasn’t had such a stellar political career,” says Arthur Goldhammer, an affiliate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. “The fact is that the element that has put him at the top of the heap politically is his wife’s money. Euro RSCG has four staff members, I’ve heard, assigned to keeping him in the news. He has been able to campaign more or less permanently for almost twenty years.”
In some ways, Strauss-Kahn may have been lazier than Sinclair. He appreciates her wealth—“My wife has sheltered me from need for the rest of my days,” he has said—and campaigning hard isn’t that much fun for someone who enjoys pampering so much. Strauss-Kahn’s position at the IMF was largely that of a figurehead, an ambassador whose main job was to negotiate with high-level personages and who had a big staff to take care of the day-to-day politics. The Socialist Party was concerned about this as he became the leading candidate for the presidency in 2012, and there were strategy discussions about how hard he would work, how much he could be counted upon to campaign. But there was a thought that Sinclair, the more ambitious one, would continue to push him forward.
After all, Sinclair was desperate to leave D.C. and wanted the presidency for him more than anything. In Strauss-Kahn, Sinclair saw the ultimate candidate. Her commitment to Judaism had deepened, and when her father passed away, she even decided that she would recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, or the Prayer for the Dead, for him. “My father did not have a son, so I took on the responsibility,” she has said. “Every day for a year, I visited the synagogue to recite the Kaddish, accompanied by my mother.” According to friends, she always wanted to prove that, more than 75 years after Léon Blum became France’s first Jewish prime minister, the French would again be willing to elect a Jew. Such a thing was worth the sacrifice, because it would make for une formidable revanche sur l’histoire—a revenge on history.
With something larger to be gained, not just the enjoyment of a mere love affair, Sinclair has always seen her role, in part, as that of Strauss-Kahn’s protector. She held his hand through the tribulations he went through over a decade ago, when he was accused of corruption in two arcane political scandals. One had to do with a fee from a student insurance fund; the other involved his alleged possession of a videotape that included damning evidence of campaign fraud by a right-wing political party, which he was thought to possess because he’d allegedly been bribed by a tax attorney looking to reduce Karl Lagerfeld’s taxes. Sinclair believed he had done no wrong and that this was mere skulduggery by the rightists. Ultimately, her faith proved to be well placed—Strauss-Kahn beat the accusations both times, though he resigned his post in the wake of the first scandal.
Sheltering Strauss-Kahn has also meant overlooking some of the issues in his relationships with other women, like his short affair with a Hungarian economist at the IMF, for which Strauss-Kahn was investigated in 2008 and issued an apology, though he stopped short of confessing that he had used his power in the seduction (the economist had said she felt coerced by him, “damned if I did, damned if I didn’t”). At the time, Sinclair blew off the affair as a one-night adventure and said that if Strauss-Kahn was a womanizer, “it’s important to seduce, for a politician. As long as he is still attracted to me, and I to him, it is sufficient.” According to the Taubmann biography, as far as Tristane Banon is concerned, most of Strauss-Kahn’s set think she is merely seeking revenge after Ramzi Khiroun, part of the Strauss-Kahn PR machine, called Banon to ask her to read him what she had written about Strauss-Kahn in a book she was working on about men’s political mistakes. When she refused, Khiroun applied pressure to her publisher, who agreed to remove Strauss-Kahn’s image from the front of the book and the bulk of the passage in question. When Banon found out, she called Khiroun, furious at his “auto-da-fé,” as she called it. “I will get my revenge on Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” she allegedly said.
But there were other women, of course: the member of the French National Assembly who has said that Strauss-Kahn made a “very heavy, very insistent” attempt to bed her and that she “arranged to never find myself alone with him in a closed space”; the French actress who said he’d come on to her like a “randy monkey”; another actress who said on TV, “Who hasn’t been cornered by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?”; the European journalist who said that Strauss-Kahn had said he would give her an interview if she “spent the weekend with him.” Sinclair knew about some of these stories, but if she believed them, she did not show it. She broke off a friendship with a close girlfriend who tried to dissuade her from staying in a marriage in which there was so much infidelity (a little infidelity, we are all supposed to know, is often acceptable in France). At another lunch with a friend, when the topic came up, she threw down her napkin and left the room, according to Rambert and Revel. The feeling for Sinclair, as for Hillary Clinton, must be one of siege, with an ever-shrinking circle of girlfriends providing advice and never betraying her confidence, so that her real feelings, to the public, remain impenetrable behind the mask. In a way, these public marriages—the Clintons, the Spitzers—are like heavily defended fortresses. However uncomfortable things may get on the inside, the enemies are out there.
Protecting Strauss-Kahn from the charges by Diallo would prove to be a harder exercise than those earlier scandals, but Sinclair has reportedly taken the same pose and is also convinced that this fiasco is little more than a piège, a trap, set by political enemies. Strauss-Kahn at first talked about the possibility that the Russians were involved, since they were looking to topple him from the IMF, and he’d even asked people to remove their batteries from cell phones when they visited him, wary that the Russians might be listening in. A couple weeks before the incident with the maid, he gave an interview to the French newspaper Libération in which he mentioned his three biggest obstacles in running for president: “Money, women, and being Jewish.” He continued, “Yes, I like women … so what? … For years now there’s been talk of photos of giant orgies, but I’ve never seen anything come out … So show them already!” He then envisioned a scenario involving “a woman [he is supposed to have] raped in a parking lot and who has been promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent just such a story.”
The price, for Sinclair, of admitting that Strauss-Kahn is, if not a rapist, some sort of cretin who behaves in a disgusting way with women may be too high—a loss of identity, admitting that this is the end of her dream. Strauss-Kahn’s case will likely remain unresolved until the end of August, when, most sources assume, the prosecutors will dismiss charges unless new information is forthcoming.
There is likely a future for Strauss-Kahn in France, eventually. The moment is right for a Socialist to win the presidency, and if that happens, they might even elect him prime minister—though that might be too much work in the trenches, and he might not like that.
Will Nafi Diallo’s case end up like Tawana Brawley’s? There is still no consensus in the city about what happened between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo, and everyone seems to believe that their version of events is absolutely correct. Men, in general, think that the idea of forced oral sex is somewhat preposterous, as no man would risk a pair of snapping jaws down there; women, shocked by this assertion, explain that this would be easy enough to force a woman to do in the right physical position, and that the act feels compelled half the time anyway. It seems probable to me that Strauss-Kahn acted violently toward Diallo, or at least disdainfully, whether or not there was a discussion or anticipation of payment before or after the act, and this upset her so much that she was still torn up about it when she saw her supervisor roughly twenty minutes later, with things progressing from there in a way that she never could have imagined. It’s a sad truth that you cannot take down a man like Strauss-Kahn—even if he’s guilty—unless your past is pristine.
Kenneth Thompson’s tactics in putting Diallo out in front of the cameras bring to mind the infamous race cases of the eighties and nineties, and some insiders have suggested that Vance may encounter problems with the African-American community during the next election cycle if the case ends up being dropped. As always, the stakes are not only justice but money—a language that all involved understand.
These days, at the Tribeca townhouse, there are still some desultory protests, usually involving about a dozen people holding eight-by-ten sheets of paper on which they’ve printed RAPE IS NOT A HUMAN RIGHT (UNLESS YOU’RE RICH, POWERFUL, AND WHITE). (A rumor goes around that the protesters have each been paid $50 by Thompson to show up; he says, “I can assure you I do not pay a dime to set up a protest.”) A few reporters and photographers gather to hear what they have to say. “We’re just asking for justice for the victim, and until this man is brought before a judge and a jury, we’re not going to be satisfied,” says a male black protester. “This is not about race; this is about a human being who made a complaint, and I don’t care if she’s transgender or if she’s polka dots, she deserves her day in court.”
“Your attitude would be the same if he was not a rich white male but a poor black male?” asks a French reporter.
“Of course!” he says, then pauses. “But now, you know we wouldn’t be here if this was a black male accused of rape. Nuh-uh, he’d already be in prison.”
One would think that Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair might have heard this protest from inside, where Strauss-Kahn usually plays chess on his iPad to pass the time and a series of male maids (they’ve hired no females) cater to his needs. But that week, Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair had started to take things out of the home, bit by bit—a piece of luggage here, a laptop bag there. Then they escaped to the leafy respite of Tanglewood for a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Kurt Masur. It was Sinclair’s 63rd birthday, and she wanted to hear some music. She sent a mass text message to her friends around then, saying that she still felt she was “right not to have any doubts” about Strauss-Kahn. Then she added another thought. “Let us not,” she wrote, “forget those who spit in our face.”
Additional reporting by Andre Tartar.