If New York prosecutors are feeling glum about the credibility concerns about their victim in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case, they might want to cast a glance at a similar attempted rape inquiry in Paris. Because even if the flurry of follies that have suddenly begun swirling around that French investigation won’t help solidify their case in New York, American prosecutors might wind up feeling their witness isn’t as dodgy as all that, in relative terms at least.
Lovers of allegation, revelation, counter-claims, unsettling sexual openness, and accusation of bold-faced lying, step this way.
First, a quick review of the French complaint against DSK. On July 8, Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the attempted rape complaint filed by 32-year old author Tristane Banon. Banon says the former International Monetary Fund chief sexually assaulted her during a Feb. 2003 interview for a project she was working on. Though Banon had spoken publicly about the incident previously—including a 2007 TV appearance in which she famously described her aggressor as acting like “a chimpanzee in heat”—she said she’d balked at filing formal charges over the years due to the hostility and attack she’d face as a result.
That decision was also significantly influenced by urgings to stay mum about the matter from her mother, Anne Mansouret, a former businesswoman now serving as a regional elected official from Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party. Mansouret says she advised Banon to stay quiet about the incident for fear it could torpedo Strauss-Kahn’s sky rocking political career—as well as her own. However, just days after news broke that New York prosecutors had discovered details in the life of DSK’s accuser that they felt might fatally compromised their case, Banon’s lawyer filed her formal complaint with French justice officials July 6. Banon swears her belated decision has nothing to do with the increasingly likelihood DSK will avoid a trial in New York—but, frankly, who’d fault her if she were motivated by wanting to see him face a judge on one side of the Atlantic or the other? Especially when there’s no particular reason to suspect her claims aren’t honest.
(PHOTOS: The Case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn)
So much for the staid background; now let’s get tawdry.
On July 13, investigators called Mansouret in to question her about Banon’s allegations. Mansouret repeated details published in earlier press reports that her daughter called her after the attack; that Banon was very shaken up; and that Banon provided a vivid account of the assault. She also reiterated her regret at having advised Banon not to press charges against Strauss-Kahn. According to the newsweekly l’Express, Mansouret then told officials something she’d held back all this time: that three years before her daughter’s now notorious meeting with DSK, Mansouret had willingly engaged in sex with Strauss-Kahn during a 2000 encounter. Not surprisingly, Banon was described as being somewhat taken aghast by the news when it broke on Monday.
But the reflexive grimaces don’t end there: Indeed, Mansouret had even more to say about her DSK sexual experience in the offices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Clearly less inclined to cut Strauss-Kahn the kind of slack than she did in 2003 when she convinced her daughter to withhold her accusations, Mansouret told police her tryst with the former favorite for the 2012 French presidential election was “consensual but brutal.” She also sought to dispel the boys-will-be-boys apologies about the notoriously randy DSK being an incorrigible seducer by noting that once they’d gotten down to amorous business, Strauss-Kahn acted “like a predator who wasn’t looking for pleasure, but to take.” With her daughter having already invoked the chimpanzee parallel, Mansouret described Strauss-Kahn to investigators as demonstrating the “obscenity of a grunt soldier.”
No, we’re not done wincing yet.
Mansouret also told officials that after she’d been alerted by Banon in Feb. 2003 about having been attacked by Strauss Kahn, she spoke with her friend Brigitte Guillemette about what had happened to her daughter. Guillemette is DSK’s second wife, and Banon’s godmother. She’s also the mother of DSK’s daughter, Camille, who Banon has described as a close friend, and the person who helped her line up the 2003 interview with Strauss-Kahn. According to statements Mansouret made to investigators, Guillemette later told her when she called Strauss-Kahn to question him about Banon’s accusation, DSK replied, “I don’t know what came over me. I slept with the mother, and I went nuts when I saw the daughter.”
But ever since Banon made her intention to press charges clear, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have dismissed her story as “imaginary.” They’ve filed a counter-complaint against her for making false and defamatory accusations. DSK won’t be alone in that for long. During her questioning by justice officials this week, Guillemette not only denied everything Mansouret recounted, but is planning on using those statements as the basis for a defamation case she’s filing against Mansouret. And that legal punch isn’t the only one Guillemette’s throwing.
In an interview with the weekly Nouvel Observateur released Wednesday, Guillemette says “nothing (Mansouret) is saying is true”, and insisted “all statements being attributed to me (by Mansouret) are false.” Better still, far from being bound by intimate, quasi-familial ties of friendship, Guillemette says her infrequent contacts with Mansouret over the years arose from both of them having been successful businesswomen in their shared sector of communications. The subtext: I hardly know this woman projecting herself as my BFF.
Guillemette also says her daughter Camille “was never a friend of Tristane Banon” as claimed—something Camille Strauss-Kahn has confirmed. According to press leaks of her July 18 interrogation, Camille Strauss-Kahn denied being close to Banon, and stated she has “only had coffee with her twice in my life”: once to hear Banon’s request to help set up a meeting with DSK, the second, apparently, to hear Banon’s accusation Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her. For those reasons, Guillemette characterizes Mansouret’s depiction of familial intimacy and complicity between the mothers and daughters as “sordid delusion.”
Sordid seems accurate, given what follows. Guillemette says when Camille told her of the claims Banon made against her father during their second meeting, Guillemette immediately called DSK—who denied the accusation. She says she then called Mansouret, who–according to Guillemette–responded to the rape claims saying, “None of this is serious. Anyway, I’m Strauss-Kahn’s mistress.”
With such frontal contradiction and counter-allegations flying thick, it’s pretty clear someone’s into the old fiberoo pretty big time here. Time will tell who that is, but if French prosecutors—and media—are as tough and judgmental on credibility issues as their American counterparts, there may be some rough going for Mansouret soon. As our earlier post noted, the considerably autobiographical novels Banon has written illustrate the unhappy childhood and youth she experienced as the daughter of a career-minded businesswoman who had no time, interest, or even desire for children, despite having several of her own. (“They’re a bother, make noise, ask questions, require attention” Banon once told an interviewer about her mother’s attitude towards her kids.) Banon has described her father—who disappeared from her life at birth—as one of the “many men (who) filed through my mother’s house,” which would seem to suggest that him being absentee might somehow be Mansouret’s fault.
That rather ironically seems to echo the old, evil social assumptions that in questions of sex pitting men and women against one another, the male is going to get the benefit of doubt. Which is one reason Mansouret’s apparently unabashed self-centered, libertine lifestyle may well earn her a mauling by DSK backers and media commentators who’d never dare whack the countless French men who lead similar lives without reproach or judgment. And that’s doubly troubling, because no matter what people think of Mansouret’s private affairs, her behavior elsewhere doesn’t condition the truthfulness of what she’s told investigators: she’s either lying or she isn’t.
Yet her behavior and revelations are already starting to shape perceptions of Mansouret as both a flake and a loose cannon—and quite possibly a credibility handicap to her daughter’s attempted rape case. If so, that’d be a shame. We’ve already seen one set of prosecutors prepare to walk away from litigation due to credibility issues that have nothing to do with the central accusations being made.