On May 14, 2011, the then-director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had a six-minute encounter with a chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The brief interaction had momentous consequences. Before, DSK was widely believed to be cruising toward becoming the Socialist Party’s candidate to challenge France’s vulnerable incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy. After, DSK was forced to resign his IMF post and saw his political career go up in smoke, as the Manhattan district attorney brought criminal charges that characterized the hotel incident as a violent sexual assault. The case imploded when prosecutors lost faith in the credibility of the chambermaid, and gradually the case faded from the headlines.
Journalist Edward Jay Epstein doggedly pursued the story, however, and uncovered details that raise questions about the established narratives surrounding the case, and that are bound to be viewed as validation of DSK by his friends and supporters. Epstein’s work, published in the New York Review of Books, meticulously reassembles the events of the day, drawing on hotel passcard data, as well as cell phone and video records that mark the comings and goings of DSK and some figures who have not yet been named in the affair. The account adds to the list of inconsistencies plaguing the version of events that the chambermaid and prosecutors initially put forward, and raises suspicions about a number of other players — some within the staff of the Sofitel Hotel and its parent company, others outside of it. Among the evidence that Epstein uncovered is videotape footage of a strange event:
At 1:31 — one hour after [chambermaid Nafissatou] Diallo had first told a supervisor that she had been assaulted by the client in the presidential suite — [Hotel Security Chief] Adrian Branch placed a 911 call to the police. Less than two minutes later, the footage from the two surveillance cameras shows [Hotel Chief Engineer Brian] Yearwood and an unidentified man walking from the security office to an adjacent area. This is the same unidentified man who had accompanied Diallo to the security office at 12:52 PM. There, the two men high-five each other, clap their hands, and do what looks like an extraordinary dance of celebration that lasts for three minutes.
Epstein also finds evidence that DSK was being targeted and that his email had been hacked; according to one source, it was being read by persons connected with Sarkozy’s political party. DSK had been warned and was apparently planning to have his iPad and BlackBerry examined to see if their security had been compromised. Before he could do so, the BlackBerry disappeared in DSK’s Sofitel suite. Records for the device show that it was disabled using fairly sophisticated procedures at 12:51 that day. DSK’s calls and efforts to retrieve the BlackBerry led directly to his being arrested and hauled off an Air France flight that was about to leave for Paris.
Accor Hotels, which operates the Sofitel, responded clumsily to Epstein’s disclosures: first by denying the existence of the video, and then by stating that the hotel’s engineer and security chief had “categorically denied that their exchange had anything to do” with the DSK affair. But the sequence of events Epstein describes makes that explanation seem rather improbable. Epstein has since demanded that the entire video, which he clearly has viewed, be released.
These developments should be examined carefully by the Manhattan district attorney, because they reveal what may have been an elaborate effort to mislead law-enforcement officials about what happened that night. False police reports are rarely themselves the subject of a prosecution, but this effort involved enormous public attention and, in the end, considerable embarrassment to the prosecutors — perhaps enough to warrant making an exception. Epstein’s disclosures don’t reach far enough to establish a conspiracy, but they do suggest that the DSK affair has more moving parts than was previously recognized. They also provide reason to pause and express appreciation for the New York Review, which has offered serious investigative journalism where most major U.S. newspapers and broadcast media embarrassed themselves by rushing to conclusions that now appear to have been unwarranted. The Review is reaping the usual reward: while its report has unleashed a political firestorm in France, it is being largely ignored by major American news outlets.