GWEN IFILL: For more on a story unfolding on two continents, we turn to reporters in New York and Paris. Elaine Sciolino reports for The New York Times. Her forthcoming book is “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.” And Tamer El-Ghobashy is covering the criminal case for The Wall Street Journal.
Tamer, how does the case stand tonight against Dominique Strauss-Kahn?
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY, The Wall Street Journal: Well, what we’re waiting for at this point on Wednesday is for a forthcoming court appearance on Friday, in which it’s expected that Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be learning whether a grand jury has voted to indict him and — on charges of presumably sexual assault and criminal sex act, among others.
At this point, he’s in Rikers Island jail here in New York City, where he’s in protective custody and under suicide watch, which is not a very unusual move for an inmate who is being incarcerated for the first time, and particularly someone of his prominence in the world and considering the charges he’s been — leveled against him.
GWEN IFILL: What are his attorneys saying at this point against the charges that we have heard about?
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Well, what we have heard from the attorneys outside of court has been very little, beyond that he’s going to plead not guilty to whatever charge and that he denies any — anything happened that was criminal.
What we heard in court was that they don’t believe that there’s — there was any — there is any forensic evidence to support a coerced sex act. In addition, what they’re saying is that he — this narrative that he left the hotel in a hurry to JFK Airport and boarded a flight to France was an attempt to flee, they believe that’s false.
They — they say they have evidence and will have testimony from people who will testify that they met with Mr. Strauss-Kahn after he left the airport, and they can place him there, showing that he was in no hurry to leave and that he indeed did nothing wrong.
GWEN IFILL: You mean after he left the hotel and before he went to the airport.
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: But prosecutors, who we assume are repeating the story or the version of events provided by the complainant, they are saying they have forensic evidence, you mentioned. For instance, what would that mean?
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: They are saying that they’re testing certain items removed from the hotel room, including some section of carpeting that may have DNA evidence that they believe belongs to Mr. Strauss-Kahn, in addition to the complainant’s narrative of what happened. And, also, they’re building their case around video surveillance and interviews with other witnesses who may have come into contact with the complainant after this alleged event and also with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
GWEN IFILL: Elaine Sciolino, in Paris, in France, how is this all being received?
ELAINE SCIOLINO, The New York Times: There’s been an evolution in the thinking here, Gwen. The first reaction was disbelief. We cannot possibly imagine that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could be guilty of this kind of crime.
“This is not the man I know,” said one political leader from his party.
Then that followed — was followed by rage, especially after the arraignment, where he appeared unshaven, he had no tie and he had also been handcuffed, which is — under French law, is not acceptable, to show a defendant — a defendant handcuffed.
So, now there’s been another sort of movement in people’s thinking, and there is starting to be sympathy for the — the woman, the victim. People are now raising the question of whether or not there should be changes in sexual harassment traditions or laws here in France.
GWEN IFILL: I saw a poll, which maybe is dated by now, showing that 57 percent of French people thought that he was a victim of a conspiracy. Is that shifting?
ELAINE SCIOLINO: Well, exactly, as you — you used the word dated by now. It was done on Monday and things have changed since then, as the sort of reality has sunk in and some more details are unfolding.
Also, polls in France — and you know this from your days covering politics — polls in France are not like they are in the U.S.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Elaine, you have been in Paris for some time and you probably have some sense of not only the politics, but kind of the cultural difference between the way these sorts of things are perceived there and the way they’re perceived here. Does that explain part of the bad feelings, at least in the beginning?
ELAINE SCIOLINO: It does, because there is a sort of preservation of what’s called vie privee, private life. And, frankly, it’s not a liability for a politician to have had a lot of extramarital affairs. It’s very different from the United States.
And the whole chattering class, journalists, politicians, business leaders, will tell you the fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was rumored to have a very active extramarital sex life wouldn’t have been a factor in him being elected president.
GWEN IFILL: Tamer El-Ghobashy, let’s talk a little bit more about the woman in this case. What do — do we know anything more about her, about her background, about the charges that she brought?
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Sure.
We have been learning a little bit about who she is. Of course, traditionally, here in the United States, victims of sexual crimes, or alleged victims of sexual crimes, their names are not released by authorities. However, her name has leaked and it’s appeared in foreign media.
But what we know about her has been through an attorney that’s been hired on her behalf. Now, I have to note that he’s not representing her in the criminal case, nor is there a civil case at this point. And he said that there has been no conversation about a civil case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
However, he’s been acting as sort of a spokesman for her and has provided a few details about who she is. She’s 32 years old. She lives in the Bronx. She’s a single mother of a 15-year-old girl. She’s been working at the Sofitel Hotel in Midtown for three years as a chambermaid.
She arrived in the United States about seven years ago from Guinea as a — she had received asylum here in the United States. What the circumstances of that asylum was and what conditions — under what condition she left her home country are not clear at this point.
What we know is that she’s widowed. Her husband died at some point under, at this point, unknown circumstances. She’s been described as a devout Muslim woman who — who really has no criminal record, or has been an anonymous New Yorker up until this point.
GWEN IFILL: And she is no longer anonymous. Do we know where she is or whether she has even been seen in public?
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: According to her attorney and several law enforcement officials I have spoken to, she’s in an undisclosed, secure location. She hasn’t been able to return to her home, primarily because there’s hordes of media outside waiting for her from presumably all over the world.
She just recently was reunited with her daughter, I believe yesterday, for the first time since the incident. So we haven’t seen her in public. She has visited the Special Victims Unit here in New York, where she was being interviewed by detectives. She’s also visited the district attorney’s office.
And, today, she’s — was due to or may have already testified in front of a grand jury. There are — she was covered in a sheet when she did appear in front of some news cameras to protect her identity.
GWEN IFILL: Elaine Sciolino, let’s make a distinction here, because you make it in your book and other places, between kind of the attitude that the French have toward, as you pointed out, people in extramarital relationships or people who have very high-profile sexual lives and people who may be accused of criminality. Is that a dividing line in this case?
ELAINE SCIOLINO: It is, but I would argue that, if the media had been more aggressive at the time that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was named the head of the IMF, perhaps this unfortunate event, whichever — whatever it will turn out to be, could have been prevented, because there already had been a French woman, a journalist, who had come forward and accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape.
She never prosecuted him because she was advised by her mother not to do it. Taking on the powerful in France is very, very difficult to do. But had there been a real tradition of investigative reporting and investigating inside the bedroom, maybe we wouldn’t be here today.
GWEN IFILL: Elaine Sciolino and Tamer El-Ghobashy, thank you both very much.
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Pleasure.
ELAINE SCIOLINO: Thank you.