2:59pm

Fri July 1, 2011
Europe

For Strauss-Kahn, Fresh Political Hope (Perhaps)

Originally published on Sat July 2, 2011 5:58 am

France once again woke up to stunning news about Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Because of his accuser's lack of credibility in several areas, New York prosecutors no longer think they have a solid case against the French politician.

Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, had been under house arrest while fighting the charge that he sexually assaulted a hotel housekeeper in May. Friday, after prosecutors said they had found inconsistencies in his accuser's story, he was released on his own recognizance (though he must stay in the U.S.).

French television and radio stations immediately broke into regular programming to air special coverage of Strauss-Kahn's appearance Friday morning at the New York courthouse, shown live on many networks.

France has been rocked by the Strauss-Kahn saga, with the reverberations going well beyond politics.

Since his arrest, French society and the media have been engaged in soul-searching with many asking questions, like: Is sexual harassment taken seriously enough? Do the media do their job properly? Are elites allowed another code of conduct?

The Socialist Party, which has been in disarray since Strauss-Kahn's arrest, welcomed the news. Party spokesman Benoit Hamon gave a press conference following Strauss-Kahn's appearance in court.

"We Socialists and many French people are very relieved to have seen just a few minutes ago, Strauss-Kahn come out of the courtroom with his wife," he says. "He has gained some important freedoms and the turn this case is taking is a huge relief to us."

Strauss-Kahn's arrest upended French politics. While he hadn't formally declared his candidacy, polls suggested that Strauss-Kahn would beat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election, and he was more popular than any other Socialist.

The New York hotel episode dashed Strauss-Kahn's ambitions for France's top job, and in his absence, three other Socialist candidates are running for their party's nomination.

Can He Make A Comeback?

But with Friday's turn of events, some are now wondering whether Strauss-Kahn could make a comeback.

"It's the big question," says Charles Bremner, who has covered French politics for 30 years for the Times of London."It's a big test of how France has changed these days. In the old days, you could probably get away with anything behind the bedroom door, and you could still be elected president."

Bremner says it is far too early to speculate about Strauss-Kahn's future, but he suspects things could be different this time.

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn is very much damaged goods — at least at the moment," he says. "He's also been subjected to great ridicule in France, and one of the worst things that can happen to you in the history of France is to be the subject of ridicule. It used to get you banished from the Royal Court, for example."

Bremner says there will also be those who feel the American media and justice systems have unfairly crucified Strauss-Kahn, so they'll rally around him.

In a small seaside park in the Mediterranean town of Nice, the Sol family is lounging on the grass.

Patrick Sol says it's all just a little too weird.

"I think they came to some sort of arrangement between the two sides," he says. "Money must have changed hands. When Strauss-Kahn appeared in court accused, he looked bad. He didn't have the face of someone who was innocent. I think there's something fishy going on."

But when asked if Strauss-Kahn could make a comeback in politics, both Patrick and his wife Anne Marie give a resounding "Oui."

"Oh, he can come back with no problem," says Anne Marie Sol. "French politicians are good at remaking themselves after run-ins with justice. It certainly wouldn't be the first time it's happened."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There was a remarkable turnaround today in the case involving the former head of the International Monetary Fund. A New York judge ordered Dominique Strauss-Kahn released from house arrest without bail. The 62-year-old French politician is charged with rape over an alleged attack on a hotel maid in May. Prosecutors have admitted there are now important questions about the credibility of his accuser.

In France, many are wondering whether Strauss-Kahn might eventually be able to recover his political career.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: France once again woke up to stunning news from New York about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Because of the plaintiff's lack of credibility in several areas, New York prosecutors no longer think they have a solid case against the French politician.

DSK, as he is known here, had been accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper and was fighting the charges in New York.

(Soundbite of French news clips)

BEARDSLEY: Television and radio stations immediately broke into regular programming to air special coverage of the event. Strauss-Kahn's appearance at the New York courthouse was shown live on many networks.

France has been rocked by the Strauss-Kahn saga, with reverberations going well beyond politics. Since he was arrested in May, French society and the media have been engaged in soul searching, with many asking questions like: Is sexual harassment taken seriously enough? Does the media do its job properly? Are elites allowed another code of conduct?

The Socialist Party, which has been in disarray since Strauss-Kahn's arrest, welcomed the news. Party spokesman Benoit Hamon gave a press conference following Strauss-Kahn's appearance in court.

Mr. BENOIT HAMON (Spokesman, Socialist Party): (Through Translator) We Socialists and many French people are very relieved to have seen just a few minutes ago, Strauss-Kahn come out of the court room with his wife. He gained some important freedoms and the turn this case is taking is a huge relief to us.

BEARDSLEY: Strauss-Kahn's arrest upended French politics. While he hadn't formally declared his candidacy, polls suggested that Strauss-Kahn would beat Sarkozy in next year's presidential election and he was more popular than any other Socialist.

Strauss-Kahn's ambitions for France's top job were dashed by the New York hotel episode. And in his absence, three other Socialist candidates are running for the party's nomination. But with today's turn of events, some are now wondering if DSK could make a comeback.

Mr. CHARLES BREMNER (Reporter, The Times of London): It's the big question. It's a big test of how France has changed these days. In the old days, you could probably get away with anything behind the bedroom door and you could still be elected president.

BEARDSLEY: That's Charles Bremner, who has covered French politics for 30 years for The Times of London. Bremner says it is far too early to speculate about Strauss-Kahn's future, but he suspects things could be different this time because France has been humiliated by Strauss-Kahn.

BREMNER: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is very much damaged goods, at least at the moment. He's also been subject to great ridicule in France. And one of the worst things that can happen to you in the history of France is to be the subject of ridicule. It used to get you banished from the royal court, for example.

BEARDSLEY: Bremner says there will also be those who feel the American media and justice systems have unfairly crucified DSK, so they'll rally around him.

(Soundbite of seagulls)

BEARDSLEY: In a small seaside park in the Mediterranean town of Nice, the Sol family is lounging on the grass. Patrick Sol says it's all just a little too weird.

Mr. PATRICK SOL: (Through Translator) I think they came to some sort of arrangement between the two sides. Money must have changed hands. When Strauss-Kahn appeared in court accused, he looked bad. He didn't have the face of someone who was innocent. I think there's something fishy going on.

BEARDSLEY: But when asked if Strauss-Kahn could make a comeback in politics, both Patrick and his wife, Anne Marie, give a resounding oui.

Ms. ANNE MARIE SOL: (French language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Oh, he can come back with no problem, says Anne Marie Sol. French politicians are good at remaking themselves after run-ins with justice. It certainly wouldn't be the first time it's happened, says Sol.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Nice. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.