Yesterday afternoon at 4 o’clock, we dialed Paris.
We spoke for an hour with the person that every journalist tried to contact when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York: his biographer.
Michel Taubmann had, incidentally, released a book about Strauss-Kahn earlier this year.
Of course, with DSK’s arrest, Taubmann felt a biography of the man must include this latest, shocking chapter.
The updated version was released yesterday in France.
But it’s already time for Taubmann to head back to the printers: late last night, after our interview, and while France was sleeping, news broke that the case against Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse, with prosecutors having found serious holes in the accuser’s story.
While there is evidence of sexual activity, Strauss-Kahn’s accuser has repeatedly lied to prosecutors, according to the report in the New York Times.
Here’s our interview with Michel Taubmann, which offers a deeper look into the man who might be about to make the greatest political comeback in recent history.
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Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The CharmerBI: How long have you known Dominique Strauss-Kahn?
Like everyone, I have known DSK for a long time. I have met him several times, but I wasn’t close to him. I have never been his friend. I know other French politicians better than I know him.
When I first started to write about him, it wasn’t an authorised biography. His staff was not confident with me; I never asked for permission.
But by the end of the investigation, I met him twice and his wife three times. And I had several conversations with him by phone.
BI: Is he a private person? Is he generally a private man in terms of the press, media…
No, he is very open. He is a very charming man, not only with women. He’s very charming with everybody.
You know, when he was younger, when he was the President of the Commission of Economic Affairs in the French parliament, more than 20 years ago. He was a young man, and the French finance minister– Pierre Beregovoy — was a socialist, like him, but he was an older man. He was 65.But when Strauss Kahn entered the minister’s office, the centre of gravity in the room changed. Everybody was drawn to Strauss-Kahn.
He was very attractive to women. He’s very smart, very bright. He speaks fluently in English, German, Spanish and Arabic. It’s very rare to see a politician who is so bright. He was a graduate of HEC, the best business school. He was a graduate of SciencPo, the best political school. He is a graduate of law…
BI: That’s why it’s so difficult to comprehend the situation in which he now finds himself.
During my investigation I have met several women who knew him very, very well. His wife, Anne Sinclair, a very famous journalist… His former wife. And I asked the question — what about his relations with women?The fact is, he’s a famous seducer. Everyone I meet, every politician and journalist, knew that he was a great seducer. So was Francois Mitterand. So was Chirac. So is Sarkozy. It’s not a problem.
But no-one could imagine that Strauss Kahn could be a rapist. Nobody could imagine that.
And I’m not convinced that he is guilty. I think the story we heard from the police doesn’t sound very credible. First, they said he was trying to escape. Now we know from multiple sources he was not escaping, and that his flight had been reserved for a long time. He goes to a restaurant, he has lunch with his daughter. He calls the hotel. That’s not the attitude of a man who wants to escape.
“He goes to a restaurant, he has lunch with his daughter. He calls the hotel. That’s not the attitude of a man who wants to escape.”
I don’t know what happened. Maybe something happened with the maid inside the bedroom at the Sofitel. But I’m not convinced he is a rapist.
I know that the American justice system is very different to our justice system. We don’t see politicians in handcuffs. In France, we were shocked. People were shocked, it was the first time we had seen a great French politician in that situation.
The Peculiar Case Of Tristan BanonBI: America is a very forgiving place. Politicians and celebrities do bad things, and then seem to be forgiven by the American public quickly, easily often. In Australia, where I’m from, there is no forgiveness.
In France, if Strauss-Kahn were to settle out of court, do you think France would forgive him?
No. French people may allow French politicians to be seducers, but they won’t tolerate rape. If he is guilty, or even if there is a transaction or agreement that allows him to go free without admitting anything, he won’t come back to French politics.
But Mr. Strauss Kahn says he’s not guilty… We have had the experience before in France and in America, in which at the beginning of everything, we were convinced he or she was guilty. Then later on, we discover this man or women is not guilty.
We are just at the beginning the Strauss-Kahn affair. What I know about Strauss-Kahn — what everyone knows — he was very charming, and a seducer and engaging. But he’s not a violent man. He was not considered a violent man. You can’t find anyone who said they worked with him and ever became angry, or got violent.
BI: Except Tristane Banon. She said he was violent.
Except her and that’s why the case of Tristane Banon is something I included in my book. I was the first French journalist who wrote about this case, and I’ve included one chapter about it in my book. In my opinion, Tristane Banon’s version doesn’t seem true.
Tristane Banon never complained, and that’s the difference between the affair here and in New York. She just made an accusation once on TV, during a show, not a very serious show. It was show that visited New York after 9/11 and made a show about woman who said that 9/11 was the planned by the CIA. It’s not a very serious program. I’m not saying that Tristane Banon isn’t serious, but if she has an accusation to make, she has to go to the police and not to the TV. It’s difficult and impossible to have a good opinion, but she never went to the police or justice system.
“He was very charming, and a seducer and engaging. But he’s not a violent man.”
What I am trying to say to people is — look at the chapter I’ve included in my book, from the book of Tristane Banon, which she wrote in 2003. This chapter was never published by her publisher. I have this chapter.
And what I wanted to show is that Tristane Banon didn’t say the same thing in her book that she said on TV. She wrote about an interview with a politician… In this chapter, she never said anything about violence. What she wrote in her book, is not the same thing as she said on TV. It’s a great contradiction. Is she telling the truth when she’s on TV? Or is she telling the truth when she’s writing? And that’s why I published the chapter.
Photo: Reuters via Daily Mail
A Man Who Is Talking Like He’s Not Guilty
BI: Have you spoken with Strauss-Kahn since he was arrested?
I have spoken with him by phone of course since he has been arrested. He can’t say anything about the case. He cannot say anything to me. I’m not his lawyer; I’m not his family. I called to ask about the past, about Tristane Banon, other questions concerning my book. I don’t want to speak with him about the case, and he doesn’t want to speak with me about the case.
He doesn’t speak like he’s guilty. He says he’s not guilty and he’s preparing for the trial with his lawyers. Of course he is very sad. He was supposed to be a candidate for president, and he is New York, in Manhattan. He never imagined he would be forced to stay in Manhattan. He can’t go outside; he’s like a prisoner. It’s very bad. Everybody… I think Americans think he’s guilty. When his wife goes outside she’s surrounded by journalists and photographers. It’s very difficult. But he doesn’t speak like someone who is guilty.
The Modern Socialist
BI: Do you think he is an optimist or a pessimist?
Now or before?
BI: In general, in his life, do you think he is an optimist or a pessimist?
He is a pragmatist.
He is a French socialist, so he has been educated inside a French leftist family, liberal, moderate… Not Marxist. His grandfather was an old traditional socialist, but anti-communist. Anti-colonialist. When he was young, he had a very good education. He had very good values, moral values…
BI: But is that view a negative or positive view of the world? Is he sitting in New York thinking his situation will improve?
He views the world positively. He’s part of the right-wing of the French socialists. He’s a realtisic man.
He was very proud of what he did at the IMF. DSK was very proud of his job at the IMF, especially about what he did for development in Africa and Asia. And you know, he helped. Nobody can say he was not a good leader. In his job, in the ministry, he was a socialist. And pragmatic.
“He represented a wonderful opportunity that might not happen again for many years… to help the French Left become modern.”
He started to become important in 1981. He became the economic brain of the Socialist party. Strauss Kahn worked a lot with socialists to recognise the free market. He was for regulation, and the free market, closer to the American left. In France, the left-wing of the socialist said DSK is like the American left. You know he was close to Tony Blair…
BI: Where does that leave his party?
What happens now? It’s terrible for the French left. He represented a wonderful opportunity that might not happen again for many years; a wonderful opportunity to help the French left become modern, and opened up to the world.
BI: And what about these conspiracy theories that he was set-up?
I refuse to say that Strauss Kahn is guilty or not before the end of the investigation and trial. But I also refuse to imagine a conspiracy. There is no proof, there is no proof that someone tried to set him up.
A Man With Two FacesBI: Now you know Strauss Kahn better than most, you’ve followed him for years… What three words are the ones that first come to mind when you think of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Brilliant. He’s very bright. Liberal. He is liberal. But he is light. Intellectually, of course, he’s serious, when he speaks about policy he’s serious, but in his personal attitude he is very light, you know.
BI: I suppose it’s that part of his character, that lightness, that makes him so charming to people, and draws people in…
You know he had several affairs, he was forced to resign from ministry of finance. But he was not guilty. Afterward, officials said was not necessary to investigate. But he knew a lot of failures because he was not always serious, in his personal attitude, he was light, as we say here.
BI: Light as in relaxed, a good humour…
He is very nice, smiling, joking. He’s not the kind of politcian, he would not be a President like Mitterand or Chirac, who look like kings. It was impossible for him to be like that… Strauss-Kahn is not distant with people. He’ll joke with you, he’ll speak with you. He’s a smart man, a bright man, not distant…
“When he was arrested, people in Sarcelles were crying in the streets…”
He is a strange man because he has a reputation for being elite and rich, but he is not rich. He was well paid as head of the IMF, but it is his wife Anne Sinclair who is rich. His family is not rich. His parents didn’t leave anything to him and brother and his sister.
So he has two face. One reputation belongs to high society. In another way, he was elected mayor in the city of Sarcelles. That is one of the most poor cities in France. One of the most poor cities in France and DSK is very, very popular. When he was arrested, people in Sarcelles were crying in the streets. People said to me, I am from Sarcelles and it’s a tragedy for us and we don’t believe he’s guilty.
At a book fair last week, some people came to talk to me who were from Sarcelles. They said, we are very, very sad and he’s wonderful man and has a wonderful wife.
He has two faces. One face is of the gentry, of society. And the other face of the face of people in the street. He receives a lot of people in his office there, and talks with them.
In Sarcelles there are a lot of Africans. Something people who know him can’t accept, is that Strauss-Kahn cannot become the symbol of the white man against the African man.
All his life, he’s been he’s very close to the Arabic world because he grew up, from when he was 2 years old to 11 years old, in Morocco. He lived among Arabic people. He is very interesting man. A lot of contradictions…
“He has two faces. One face is of the gentry, of society. And the other face is of people in the street.”
Dominique Becomes DSK
BI: What are two or three elements of DSK’s life that would really surprise people? In your book, can you tell me about one or two stories…
Well first, that he’s Jewish. His parents were not religious but they were very close to the Jewish culture, mostly intellectually. They educated him, he knows the talmud. His parents began their education when they were very young. When he was young, he and his brother and sister, when they were four of five, his parents were preparing them to learn. At lunch and dinner, his parents would ask them questions, developing them… to teach them how to think for themselves.
BI: What types of questions? What were the subjects?
Religion, philosophy… but for children. Politics. They were talking about politics since he was very young. In his family, everyone has a passion for policy, and he was the least interested by politics. His grandfather and father were very engaged.
The second thing that people may not know, is that at 18, he was married. That can seem strange for people that know he is a great seducer. When he was 18, he married the first woman he’d fallen for in his life. He met her when she was 14, Helene.
And he said to his mother, when he was 14, I want to marry her because she’s the only girl I can talk philosophy with and dance to rock and rock with. He got married when he was 18. The first part of his life… He was studying and working and married, and he didn’t love any other woman for 20 years. When he turned 34-35, he already had 3 children. And he met another woman.
“She was a different kind of woman to his first wife… Before that, he belonged to a world of intellectuals. With his second wife, he was opened to another world. He changed.”
And she was a different kind of woman to his first wife. She was a woman in business, in communications, and she opened to him a lot of doors and gates to the business world. With her, he met bosses of enterprise. Before that, he belonged to a world of intellectuals. With his second wife, he was opened to another world. He changed. His appearance changed.
Before, he was wearing a beard and glasses. And when you see pictures of him, when he was 30, he had a beard and he was not very well dressed — he looked like a leftist in the 70s… When he became 35, and he was with his the new wife, he changed his appearance. He wore good suits and he didn’t wear glasses anymore. He was not the same. Before, he was Dominque. And then he became DSK. He entered parliament when he was 37, and he changed his life. He had the taste of success. He started to like success.
Taubmann’s updated book, “Le Roman Vrai De Dominique-Strauss Kahn,” was released yesterday in France. An English translation is under way.