It is a crazy story, one that could have only happened to him: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, whose multiple talents offered the chance to achieve the loftiest goals yet who was capable of sacrificing it all for the most trivial of pleasures.
Magnetic and yet sometimes disturbingly flippant, more concerned with his freedom than his reputation, the man known as DSK is the star of a paroxystic adventure that saw him, within the space of six weeks, go from being the favorite in the upcoming French presidential elections to being charged, on Monday, May 16, with sexual assault. As he faced the dire possibility of spending the rest of his days in jail, along comes redemption, on July 1, when serious doubts surfaced about the credibility of his accuser, a New York chambermaid.
The good thing about scandals and their danger is that, regardless of whether there is any truth to them, whomever they hit is left naked. Dissected. The truth of what happened on Saturday, May 14, in that suite at the Manhattan Sofitel in New York may well never be revealed, but what the incident did do was focus the spotlight on DSK, a man who, despite his public profile, had thus far shown an uncanny ability to keep his secrets secret. Suddenly, he faced not only the scanner of public opinion but the scrutiny of those who knew him friends and colleagues who have spent the last six weeks psychoanalyzing not only him but themselves.
Between "black Monday" and "holy Friday", DSK's friends elected officials, functionaries, former colleagues, business leaders, friends of the family got together to talk about him, and together, step by step, put together an informal profile. Without letting themselves get swept up in the tide of prevailing public opinion, they conducted a discreet, and perhaps overdue, examination of conscience. In pairs and small groups, in cafés and country homes, they analyzed the floor plan of the Sofitel suite and attempted to recreate the scenario, minute by minute. They were awed by how far DSK had fallen, how fast, and "live" he was for all to see and they were rarely sure that their friend was entirely beyond reproach.
The only "profile" they rejected out of hand was that of a violent man."Dominique runs at the slightest sign of conflict!" "He never spanked his kids." "He's not a courageous man." A relative said: "He's too lazy to force anybody."
Passionately committed to the process, each one looked squarely at what they knew about DSK. "I don't know what he did in New York, but I know how he was at Bercy [the French Finance Ministry headquarters] and in Washington," says Stéphane Boujnah, who was DSK's advisor when the latter was Finance Minister and who now heads the Santander bank in Paris. He remembers how quickly DSK rallied even the most diehard technocrats at Bercy; how prodigious his memory was; how he played the financial crisis to advantage to morph the International Monetary Fund, that crusty and much disparaged institution, into a lever for global rescue; and his talent for explaining France to the world and the world to the French.
Everyone in Their Box
Each bit of input from those who know him best is just a piece of the puzzle of the larger psychological portrait of DSK. "One very particular thing about Dominique is that he'll only tell people as much as they can handle," Boujnah continues. Everybody in their box: that was a Strauss-Kahn rule.
"His freedom was more important to him than anything else," says a deputy. "Dominique always thought he could master his fate and organize things in such a way that he wouldn't have to sacrifice everything, and where only he had the key."
In this disparate club that included noted economists and CEO's and marketing mavens, each only knew about "Strauss" whatever seemed to suit their own character and values. To François Villeroy de Galhau, DSK's chief of staff at the Ministry of Finance, he was a père de famille, a fierce defender of a Christian ethic in finance, powerhouse economist, visionary. To Ramzi Khiroun, a communication adviser, DSK was a man who sent coded texts, shared unutterable secrets, and whose tangled life had to be untangled. To friends of his wife, Anne Sinclair, he was the sociable happy clan chief on family vacations in Marrakech. To bachelor friends, he was a ladies' man.
Strauss-Kahn described himself by saying: "I'm a chameleon." Each person only got a part of him, and of his time, although all agree "he was always late," with many adding "and God knows where he'd been."
This inner circle knows why the Sofitel story 'caught on': why it seemed credible, even if it was beyond the pale, with its dark side and also the possibility that it could have been part of a set-up. As one entourage member put it: "In Dominique, you get the brightest guy of his generation and Darth Vader." The encounter of the IMF boss and the maid at the Manhattan Sofitel crossed the randomness of a hotel housekeeping schedule with the fatality of a temperament, the poison of doubt instilled on fertile ground.