'Big Guns' To Prosecute Ex-IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is scheduled to be arraigned next week on charges he sexually assaulted a maid in a Manhattan hotel. Mary Louise Kelly talks with Sean Gardiner of The Wall Street Journal, who's been covering the case.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is due back in court on Monday for his arraignment. The former head of the International Monetary Fund faces seven charges for allegedly assaulting a maid at a Manhattan hotel last month, charges including attempted rape, sexual abuse, and unlawful imprisonment. So far the district attorney's office has added two senior prosecutors to its legal team and Strauss-Kahn's defense lawyers have said they possess evidence that could undermine the credibility of the maid.

Well, Sean Gardiner of the Wall Street Journal has been covering the case and he joins us to discuss how it's shaping up. Welcome.

Mr. SEAN GARDINER (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Thank you very much.

KELLY: So, assigning these two senior prosecutors to the case, does this suggest that the D.A.s office is gearing up for a tough fight?

Mr. GARDINER: Yeah. I mean it's Joan Illuzzi-Orborn and Ann Prunty, and they both have handled very high profile cases in the New York area in the last year. And they look at who's going to be across the table from them. William Taylor is very well respected Washington, D.C. based lawyer who's worked on Whitewater. And then they have Ben Brafman who's one of the top criminal defense attorneys here in New York City, and he handles big time cases like P. Diddy or Michael Jackson, he's handled. And I think the D.A.'s office felt they might as well get their team together right now and start building for those cases going forward.

KELLY: So both sides are bringing out the big guns.

Mr. GARDINER: Yeah.

KELLY: Now, you have written that this is a classic he-said, she-said case.

Mr. GARDINER: Right.

KELLY: And that Mr. Strauss-Kahn's defense team is going to be looking to try and discredit the maid. What kind of things are they likely to be looking for?

Mr. GARDINER: Yeah, they've hired a private investigation firm, and they're going to look for anything and everything they can do to quote, unquote, "muddier her up." That's what the cops call it. You know, bankruptcy, has she not been a good tenant, what do her coworkers say about her, what do her work evaluations, you know, any dirt you can on her, and just, you know, use it in whatever way you can.

Sometimes they can use it in court, but like you see in a lot of these other high profile cases where celebrities or other well-known people are accused of rape, sometimes these reports just make it into the media and...

KELLY: Right, because there are rape-shield laws to try to protect this from being the kind of thing were the accuser ends up being basically on trial trying to defend their reputation.

Mr. GARDINER: That's right. And - but what happens is a lot of these allegations make their way out into the media and a lot of people think that it muddies the waters for, like, the jurors. They end up learning about it and they go in there with bias against the victim.

KELLY: Now in this case, is it safe to assume that prosecutors are conducting their own parallel investigation, trying to dig up whatever dirt they can about Mr. Strauss-Kahn?

Mr. GARDINER: Sure, sure, and then not only prosecutors, but the defense team.

KELLY: Because they want to know what the other side may have on their guy.

Mr. GARDINER: Exactly right.

KELLY: Huh.

Mr. GARDINER: Right, and so they'll have dual investigations. As one investigator told me, you can never trust your client to tell you the whole truth. So you've got to do your own investigations, like he's the defendant in the case and you're going after him just so you can head off what you expect that the prosecution is going to be able to dig up.

KELLY: Does Dominique Strauss-Kahn have any choice in terms of strategy other than just fighting this head on? Could he, for example, plead to lesser charges and try to avoid what surely would be a very embarrassing public trial?

Mr. GARDINER: Right, I don't think the D.A.'s office is going to offer him lesser charges. Given what he's charged with, he's charged with attempted rape, and he's charged with sexual assault, and they've recovered semen from the hotel room. There's no way to go down - it's either a forced assault or it's consensual sex. I mean there's no middle ground.

So - and even if they did offer, I don't see - given even that Mr. Strauss-Kahn has got, you know, this reputation for being an international business man and, you know, a onetime French presidential candidate, that he can accept anything other than what he claims happened that he's completely innocent and that he's being set up.

KELLY: One last thing to ask you, Sean, last week a jury in New York acquitted two police officers who had been accused of raping a young woman. Any lessons from that case that might apply, here, to the Strauss-Kahn case or are they just too different to draw any connections?

Mr. GARDINER: Well, they're different in that, in that case there was no DNA evidence. And in that case the young woman was extremely drunk and her memory of what she said was an assault was very hazy. In this case it's more black and white. Either you're going to believe that something happened and it was consensual or you're going to believe that he sexually assaulted her against her will. So there aren't really similarities to be drawn between the two cases.

But the one thing for the D.A.'s office is, is that last week was a big loss on a big case, in a rape case, and this is going to be their next big rape case, so they can't afford to lose again.

KELLY: Sean Gardiner, thanks very much.

Mr. GARDINER: Thank you.

KELLY: Sean Gardiner has been covering the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case for the Wall Street Journal.

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