The case against former International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears to be rapidly unraveling; as perhaps it should given what we have learned in the two months since the case first broke. Still, the collapse of an initially-promising, high profile prosecution should be no more a catalyst leading to calls for the head of the prosecutor, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., than should the initial arrest of DSK on charges of forcible rape, have justified calls for the Frenchman's head.
Lessons are to be gleaned for all sides in the unenviable situation in which Vance now finds himself. Unfortunately, the case has deteriorated into everything a prosecution in the public interest should not be.
Perhaps most distressing has been the politicization of the case against Strauss-Kahn precipitated by the commendable openness of the District Attorney's office in publicizing early and significant weaknesses in its case. I and a number of other legal observers have been critical of Vance's office for his initial handling of Strauss-Kahn, and for apparently failing to conduct sufficient initial investigation of the woman who claimed to be the victim of his alleged assault on May 14th. However, beating up on the prosecutor for considering dropping the charges in light of the new revelations about the alleged victim's past and her demonstrated lack of credibility ill-serves justice in any regard.
Yet, this is exactly what a number of New York political figures are doing; and in the most unfortunate way -- by playing the race card. Democratic State Sen. Bill Perkins made no bones about doing this at a news conference last week in which he appeared with a group of people drawn from his "community." Perkins reportedly was almost proud in declaring that race is an issue, stating that to "ignore race would not really be looking at reality." He and Bronx Democratic Assemblyman Eric Stevenson essentially put Vance on notice, the DA would face a political maelstrom if he succumbed to what may be his ultimate judgment as a prosecutor; which would be to dismiss the charges against DSK because the weakening evidence and mounting implausibility of the chief witness would make it extremely difficult if not impossible to obtain a conviction.
Unless Perkins is somehow privy to confidential information from the police or the District Attorney's office, his assertions in support of the hotel housekeeper's side of the story are no more a basis for demands on the DA than are calls for DSK's immediate and total exoneration by his supporters in France. Yet Perkins huffs and puffs indignantly that Vance has not responded to his exhortations to plow ahead with the prosecution no matter what. Vance is entirely correct in not bowing to such pressure with a political figure clearly lacking knowledge of the case, other than what he has read publicly and what the alleged victim's supporters might have told him.
Strauss-Kahn's detractors "across the pond" in France, perhaps also bowing to political pressures, seem to have convinced a female writer to come forward and file a complaint against DSK for an alleged sexual attack on her, eight years after the fact; and as to which she filed no report at the time of the alleged 2003 incident. Whether any of the pressure for France to join in beating Strauss-Kahn like a piñata comes from this side of the Atlantic, is not clear; but it would not cause much surprise if such linkage were discovered.
The good news in all this is that both Ben Brafman and William Taylor, Strauss-Kahn's attorneys, as well as Vance appear to be handling the case exactly as they should -- quietly and professionally, and divorced from the shrill calls to destroy either DSK or Vance in the process. If the DA exercises his discretion to drop the charges because they are unsustainable legally, he is virtually certain to be the target of continued political attacks; but he will have gained a great deal of credibility for his office and for his stature as an attorney.
Bob Barr served as a U.S. Attorney in Georgia under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and for eight years as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.