Frame the Victim
Prosecutors oversold the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Now they're overselling the case against his accuser.
Four weeks ago in the DA's office, with the aid of a Fulani interpreter hired by the DA, Thompson listened to the recording of the phone call and emerged with a very different account. He said that 1) Diallo received two calls but didn't place any, 2) she never brought up Strauss-Kahn's wealth as lawsuit bounty, 3) her friend did so, but she told him to stop, 4) she mentioned Strauss-Kahn's wealth and power only in the context of fearing him, and 5) when she said, "I know what I'm doing," she was talking about her safety, not about legal strategy. This fits the account Diallo previously gave to ABC News.
The DA's motion to dismiss offers no substantive rebuttal to Thompson's description of the phone call. Instead, it says that after Diallo "professed to have no interest in obtaining money" from the case, she "had a recorded conversation with her incarcerated fiancé, in which the potential for financial recovery in relation to the May 14, 2011 incident was mentioned." A footnote adds that two translations of the call were "materially similar in their discussion of making money with the assistance of a civil lawyer." From this, the DA concludes that her "disavowal of any financial interest is relevant to her credibility." And a "law enforcement official involved in the investigation" tells the Times, according to the paper's paraphrase, that the phone call "signified another episode of Ms. Diallo's not being forthright."
Not being forthright? That's rich. First these officials told the Times that Diallo essentially said: "This guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing." Then, when the recording didn't match their description, they rephrased everything in the passive voice—there were "discussions" in which money "was mentioned"—so that they could obscure who said what and continue to imply that she had undisclosed financial motives.
The official who says Diallo wasn't forthright about the phone call also tells the Times that there can be (this is a quote) "no question as to the substance of the conversation." Really? That sounds like more passive-voice fudging to me. Let's hear the conversation. The DA has the recording. Release it.
4. The bank transactions. The motion to dismiss says Diallo "failed to disclose a stream of cash deposits—totaling nearly $60,000—that were made into her checking account" by people in four states. (It doesn't say how many people made these deposits.) It says Diallo affirmed that her friend had sometimes asked her to withdraw cash from the account and deliver it to his business partner. Given the sums involved, the motion conveys incredulity that she "claimed not to know how much money had gone through her account in this fashion."
That's funny, because the DA's office apparently didn't know how much had gone through the account, either. On June 30, the Times reported that according to "well-placed law enforcement officials," various people had "made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into [Diallo's] bank account over the last two years." Now that number is down to $60,000. If the first number was wrong, why should we believe the second?
I still wouldn't convict Strauss-Kahn, given what we know so far. But I wouldn't exonerate him, either. I certainly wouldn't do so based on this shifty, unsubstantiated, heavily spun report from the DA. We've already been suckered once by these prosecutors. Let's not make the same mistake twice.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Dominique Strauss-Kahn by Todd Heisler/Getty Images. Photograph of Nafissatou Diallo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.