It remains to be seen whether the New York Post's prediction that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance will drop the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn will come true. But whether they continue with the case or not, the fact that his prosecutors threw the accuser (who was also their primary witness) under the bus by discounting her credibility on Friday has made Vance the subject of speculation for many who say he acted inappropriately in bringing the prosecution too early. There are also those who say he acted appropriately in charging the case when he did. And plenty have posited that the Strauss-Kahn saga will be a death knell for Vance's prosecution career, one and a half years into the job, whether it was appropriate to bring the charges or not. Here's the gist of those arguments.
Vance made a mistake in bringing the case too soon. The New York Times' Michael Powell was among the first to attach the word "botch" to the Strauss-Kahn prosecution when he wrote in a column on Friday that "he might want to nail down each detail before slapping on the cuffs." On Saturday, The Times followed up with a more formal news report indicating the same thing. Gerald L. Shargel, who worked on Vance's 2009 election campaign, told The Times, "What’s most curious is hearing the line prosecutors saying early on that they had a strong case, a very strong case ... Obviously, they hadn’t looked very hard. I have enormous respect for Cy as a prosecutor, but this is like a series of bad dreams." The main criticism is that Vance failed to seal his case before he went after a very high-profile target, and that the all-but-failed prosecution is going to backfire on him because he now looks like he didn't presume innocence. In Reason, Tim Cavanaugh wrote, "Presumption of innocence is serious business, and the penumbral right not to have your reputation ruined by crusading prosecutors is also somewhat serious."
Vance did the right thing by bringing charges with the evidence he had. The Times' Joe Nocera has been the loudest and clearest to voice this point of view:
For the life of me, though, I can’t see what Vance did wrong. Quite the contrary. The woman alleged rape, for crying out loud, which was backed up by physical (and other) evidence. She had no criminal record. Her employer vouched for her. The quick decision to indict made a lot of sense, both for legal and practical reasons. Then, as the victim’s credibility crumbled, Vance didn’t try to pretend that he still had a slam dunk, something far too many prosecutors do. He acknowledged the problems.
And even as his overall story pointed out the knocks to Vance's career, Crains New York writer Shane Dixon Kavanaugh quotes Columbia University professor Dan Richman, who also suggests Vance acted appropriately:
“In a case where a quick arrest is necessary, the risk of information surfacing that radically undercuts one's case is always present for a prosecutor,” Mr. Richman said. “What we expect is not certainty from the start, but good judgment and a readiness to reassess the evidence as it comes. That seems to be happening here, and Vance should be applauded for it.”
And The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart holds up the prosecution's announcement last week as a triumph of American justice. "Even in today’s United States, prosecutors regularly withhold exculpatory evidence: it happened in the Duke Lacrosse rape case and in the prosecution of former senator Ted Stevens. That did not happen here. Which is to say, the system worked."
Whether or not it was appropriate, this case spells the end of Vance's still-young political career. In an editorial on Saturday, the New York Daily News wrote that Vance's "credibility is on the line" now that his office has publicly reversed course about the strength of its case against Strauss-Kahn. That piece, along with many others, points out the string of defeats Vance's office has suffered recently, including the acquittal of two New York City police officers on rape charges and more acquittals in prosecutions against construction supervisors at the former Deutsche Bank building, where two firefighters died in a blaze in 2007. The New York Post also took a swipe at Vance's future, comparing him to his predecessor in a scathing story on Saturday. "One thing is becoming increasingly -- and painfully -- obvious: Cy Vance is no Bob Morgenthau." And The Times noted that "Several [prosecutors] said they worried that cases were often pursued with an excessive focus on whether they would generate publicity. Some said Mr. Vance had taken away the discretion of midlevel prosecutors, sometimes to the detriment of cases." In his column for Scripps Howard News Service, Dan Thomasson made the point that the Strauss-Kahn prosecution actually damaged the reputation of U.S. justice worldwide.
By all accounts, Strauss-Kahn has engaged in prior aggressive sexual behavior toward women. That made him vulnerable. If he indeed had a consensual sexual encounter with this woman, his judgment clearly is not what it should be. But that is not enough to convict him. The rush to judgment by Vance also may have damaged America's image as a place of equal justice.
But Vance still may win this round. Almost nobody is taking this tack, but Mogulite posted an item today with an unnamed source saying that the Post story was bunk. "According to our source, prosecutors will continue on with the investigation, as they indicated on Friday when Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest." But while the Post identifies its source as "a top investigator in the case," Mogulite didn't identify its source at all. So far this morning, the case against Strauss-Kahn looks shakier than ever.