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In Strauss-Kahn Case, All Eyes on Accuser’s Statements

July 1, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, was released from house arrest Friday after a court hearing. Jeffrey Brown discusses the state of the charges Strauss-Kahn still faces with Bloomberg Television's Sara Eisen and Loyola Law School's Laurie Levenson.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Sara Eisen, a reporter for Bloomberg Television, has covered the case from the start and was in the courtroom today. She joins us from New York. Also with us from Los Angeles, Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and current professor at Loyola Law School.

So, Sara, I will start with you.

What was it like in that courtroom today? Tell us about the scene and Strauss-Kahn’s appearance.

SARA EISEN, Bloomberg Television: Well, it was a media circus, just like the other court appearances from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a little less chaotic, perhaps, then the last time.

Still, the public seating was full inside the courtroom, everyone waiting for a glimpse of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He walked in with his wife, Anne Sinclair. He looked more refreshed, serious, yet confident, an air of confidence that we didn’t see at the last time he appeared in court.

And, remember, at that time, he had just spent four nights in a Rikers Island jail cell — walked in. Once it was determined that he was going to go free from house arrest, he looked as if a weight had been lifted. And, indeed, it had, just the latest sensational twist in this long-running saga.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Sara, tell us a little more about some of the credibility questions that came up. As — as I said in that piece, some had to do with her past, and some have to do with what she said happened on the day of the alleged assault.

SARA EISEN: Right.

And, in some ways, the fireworks really today happened outside the courtroom, not even inside, because that lasted only about nine minutes. Outside, we did learn more about these accusations, that her credibility had been seriously in question.

The prosecution, in court papers today, releasing new details about her account, that she falsely gave an account to the grand jury about the night of the alleged attack in the Sofitel Hotel room in New York City.

According to court papers and the prosecution, she actually left the room after her alleged attack to clean another room, came back to Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s room, and then proceeded to tell her colleagues at the hotel what had just happened to her. So, this was just another — it was a revelation today from the court papers of what had happened that was really undermining her credibility.

Also then, we heard from Kenneth Thompson, who is the lawyer, as you said, for the maid. And he gave a lengthy, lengthy account of what she said had happened that night. And, so, really outside the courtroom was really where most of the action was and the credibility issues really came to light.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Laurie Levenson, help us understand what is going on here. A lot of these credibility questions, as we say, are about things that don’t have to do with the actual case. They go to — I guess to character? What is going on?

LAURIE LEVENSON, Loyola Law School: Well, the key issue in this case is who do you believe, because we know that there was some type of sexual encounter by the physical evidence.

He says it was consensual. She says it wasn’t. And so her credibility really will be at issue in this trial. And the defense lawyers get to use whatever they can, except for her past sexual past, to challenge her credibility.

So, if she lied, for example, in an immigration paper, or if she lied to the grand jury, or if she lied any time under oath, that’s something that the jury is going to hear about.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in some ways, those are very routine issues for a lot of cases, but this, of course, Laurie Levenson, is not a routine case. Have — are there — is it unusual for such a high-profile case like this to take a turn?

LAURIE LEVENSON: Well, a bit, but not totally.

I mean, we can’t forget about cases like the Kobe Bryant case and the like, where we had a lot of sensational accusations. And, ultimately, that case was dismissed. So, what happens here is that the prosecutors, I think rightfully, listen to the victim, want to believe the victim, bring the charges.

But then the investigation keeps going, especially if the defense brings to their attention avenues of challenging that credibility. And I give a lot of credit to the prosecutors in this case for continuing to look deep into it to make sure they really have a case come trial time.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Sara Eisen, Cyrus Vance, come out and say, it continues. But do we know what continues? What exactly happens now? Do we know?

SARA EISEN: Well, he made it clear that they are not dropping the charges. Also, the prosecution has not downgraded the charges.

Basically, what came out today from the prosecution in a stunning reversal from last time is that these serious credibility issues with the accuser were there, and that their case has been significantly weakened from the initial arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

It was very interesting to hear the prosecution today, because, last time we were in court, they were emphatic about how strong their case was and the testimony of the witness, the main witness, the accuser. This is going to continue, though. They made it clear their investigation will continue, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be back in that New York City courtroom on July 18, where he is still facing very serious charges of attempted rape and sexual assault.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us a little bit more about the high-profile nature from the prosecutor’s side. There’s a lot of politics involved here in terms of the — as you said, they made it a big case from the start and said they had the case.

SARA EISEN: Yes, they said they had the case. And we did hear from Cyrus Vance today.

Also, Ken Thompson, the lawyer for the accuser, for the maid, he criticized the Manhattan district attorney, said that they perhaps were fearing they were going to lose the case, they were setting it up for a dismissal. He was very critical. He even referenced some of Manhattan district attorney’s recent cases that have failed.

So this is a very interesting dynamic. And this could be a major blow for Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney. Today, we didn’t see that strong, confident prosecution that we saw in the last few courtrooms, for sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Laurie Levenson, I did want to ask you about — pick up on that last part, the split that we saw when the attorney for the accuser came out, was very strongly going after the prosecutor for dropping the ball, for not picking it up, and really telling him, do not let go of this.

How unusual is something like that?

LAURIE LEVENSON: Well, you know, this is a big advocate for the victim. And a lot of victims don’t have such an advocate.

But, frankly, for the prosecutor, he’s in a tough place, because even if he personally believes this victim, he has to keep in mind, can I prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury, given who this defendant is? And so what the victim’s lawyer is saying, you know what, don’t be a coward about this. Maybe she lied, but we think the jury will still believe her.

And I think the prosecutor is saying, if she lied under oath to a grand jury, given the quality of the defense lawyer he has, I don’t want to see what’s going to happen during this trial.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Laurie Levenson, what happens over the next month or so from the — in the prosecutor’s office. What are you — from your experience, what do you think they’re doing now?

LAURIE LEVENSON: Well, after they got over the initial panic, I think what they are doing is tracking down every statement she made, seeing if they can corroborate her story as much as possible, seeing under what conditions she might have made false statements and whether they can be explained away, and, frankly, trying to find as much evidence outside of her that might support these charges, the physical evidence, what other witnesses say happened, maybe other potential victims.

That’s what could save this case.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Sara, finally, they told us there would be another hearing in July. Did they — did they say what would happen or what that exactly that is for?

SARA EISEN: No, they didn’t say.

But this is the scheduled hearing, when he was next supposed to appear in court. Today, it was a surprise hearing on that bail modification. What I can also tell you is, Ben Brafman, lawyer for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, spoke outside the courthouse afterwards to reporters, smiling, beaming outside of the courthouse, saying this is a Fourth of July weekend. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has his freedom.

It is the first step, he say, for him. The next step, according to Ben Brafman, will be complete dismissal of the charges. So we will see. They certainly were confident coming out of today.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sara Eisen, Laurie Levenson, thank you both very much.

LAURIE LEVENSON: Thank you.

SARA EISEN: Thank you