A well-known politician from a foreign country-- and one of the world's top economic officials-- is boarding an international flight leaving New York City when a hotel maid calls the NY City Police and claims he raped her. What does a prosecutor do?
That is the question Manhattan DA Cy Vance faced in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the time the head of the International Monetary Fund and purported to be a legitimate challenger for the office of president of France. The District Attorney made a quick decision and police hauled Strauss-Kahn off the flight and to jail. There was evidence that sex had occurred. As days passed, the woman's story seemed solid, and with respect to Strauss' conduct, stories quickly surfaced of his womanizing. The DA's office then did what it must: investigate the facts.
From the first, the story was sensational and especially in France, where indignation of a top presidential candidate being held to a perp walk quickly gave way to a national debate about sexual mores in a country famous for a je ne sais croix. So far, so good: the law holds equally for all people, no matter their wealth or status.
While the alleged perpetrator is jailed the released under house arrest because he is a flight risk, prosecutors beginning to uncover information about the woman; statements don't match up, her background and associations raise questions (the same could be said, of the IMF's regular course of business) but importantly, in several instances of personal conduct in the past, she lied to officials. Worse, in at least one circumstance a lie of hers involved a false allegation of rape.
Last week, the Manhattan DA released DSK, as he is now known throughout the world, on bail and personal recognizance. The world press, led by the New York Times, has taken up the story as a front page, top of the fold story and turned its focus to the performance of Mr. Vance.
But where is Mr. Vance to blame, whether the case falls apart or not?
As the New York Times notes today, the Manhattan DA presides over roughly 100,000 cases per year. It is a staggering volume involving thousands of attorneys. It is hard to see how the Manhattan DA could have acted differently, preserving respect of the office and the law. Somehow changing this story, now, to an inquisition of the Manhattan DA misses the point.
Mr. Vance and the office of the Manhattan DA did exactly the right thing, twice: first in arresting DSK and, once information emerged that badly compromised the case, releasing him. However this case turns out, Mr. Vance earns respect from a jaded public that wonders, if the law applies according to what one can afford. From Mr. Vance, there is a clear answer. The law is not a matter of status, wealth or prestige: the law applies equally.