Cy Vance Is Accused of Dropping Strauss-Kahn Case for Political Gain

The hotel maid 'feels abandoned by the Manhattan district attorney'

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The fate of the criminal case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn became all but decided on Saturday, when Kenneth Thompson, lawyer of the alleged rape victim Nassifatou Diallo, received a letter from an assistant district attorney offering to meet with his client Monday, the day before Strauss-Kahn's next scheduled court appearance, the Associated Press reports. He interpreted this as meaning that prosecutors plan to drop some or all of the charges against Strauss-Kahn. On Sunday, the New York Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that prosecutors will ask a judge to dismiss all charges against Strauss-Kahn at a court hearing Tuesday. And according to The Daily Beast's analysis:

If the criminal charges are indeed dismissed, there is "definitely not" any way that Diallo or her attorneys can compel Strauss-Kahn to stay in the United States...And the civil case is not expected to come to trial for two years in the best of circumstances... By then, Strauss-Kahn could be on his way to rebuilding the political France, where his friends and defenders have excoriated the American legal system. So DSK could decline to answer the civil complaint by Diallo...

Thompson said his client Diallo "is hurt, she is depressed... Ms. Diallo feels abandoned by the Manhattan district attorney [Cyrus Vance]." He added that Diallo and her 15-year-old daughter's "lives are in shambles because of what happened." While prosecutors said publicly that Diallo had lied to them about her personal history, another of Diallo's attorneys, Douglas Wigdor, maintained that "most victims have complicated pasts. If the new standard in American justice is to defend only those with a spotless past, they should come out and say it."

Wigdor also said that, "If I were the district attorney, I wouldn't hesitate for a second. I know that most of the district attorneys in New York and in the country wouldn't either." This has led him to question Vance's motives: "We don't have confidence in (Vance's) desire to take this to court... I wonder about his motivations."

Diallo's other attorney agrees. Christopher Dickey, who interviewed Diallo for Newsweek, as part of her lawyer's "unprecedented campaign to sway public opinion," noted in the Daily Beast that "As one of the reporters who participated in those interviews, I found Diallo largely convincing...Diallo’s account was also backed up by DNA evidence, and by the consistency with which she told her story..." He also said that "Thompson claimed Vance, who had just lost a couple of other high-profile cases, was now trying to back out of this one."

According to the New York Times, Diallo's attorneys aren't the only ones questioning. It noted that while "few people would suggest that Mr. Vance’s chances of re-election in 2013 hinge on how he handles the Strauss-Kahn case, or even that the specter of politics would affect his decision" and that "Mr. Vance’s supporters and critics alike have said it is very hard to unseat an incumbent district attorney in New York," it acknowledged that the Strauss-Kahn case may in fact pose problems for Vance's career.

Still, several legal and political insiders pointed to a number of factors that could affect Mr. Vance’s job security: He replaced a very popular, long-tenured district attorney in Robert M. Morgenthau; he is running a prosecutor’s office that gets much more attention than the others in the city; and, because he is in only his second year in the position, his reputation is not yet firmly established.

One political strategist, who asked not to be identified because he did not want to offend Mr. Vance, said the district attorney could be in danger of losing re-election only if other negative or embarrassing cases for him lie ahead.

Of course, there may be political fallout for Vance for dropping the case. Councilwoman James told the Times that if the case was dismissed over credibility issues, “it would have a chilling effect on all rape victims, and it would send a message to all rape victims that unless you are a perfect rape victim, you should not even bother to come forward.” And feminist Gloria Steinem, who endorsed Vance two years ago, said she hoped he would not dismiss it. While she said that voting for a district attorney does not "rest entirely on this case," she indicated "but this case is an element.”

Nonetheless, the Times offers this cynical perspective from an unnamed former prosecutor who did not want to be identified:

Still, from a purely political perspective, dismissing the case would be Mr. Vance’s best option...Dropping the case would lead to short-term criticism, but it would eventually disappear, the former prosecutor said.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.