While reporting on the sexual assault case against International Monetary Fund Chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday's Today, NBC correspondent Jeff Rossen noted how the would-be Socialist Party candidate for the French presidency had "worried his political opponent, current French President Nicolas Sarkozy, would try to frame him with a fake rape..."
Rossen further added that Strauss-Kahn once told a French newspaper that the rape victim would be "promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent this story" by Sarkozy. Following Rossen's report, correspondent Michelle Kosinski highlighted French outrage over Strauss-Kahn's arrest: "I would say that the reaction ranges from disbelief to outright disgust. To see their VIP paraded before cameras, the socialists are calling it 'inhumane'....they're saying that this looks like a humiliating public exhibition like something from ancient times."
The headline on screen during the segment read: "French Conspiracy Theories; Was Banker Set Up as Part of Political Plot?"
After Kosinski's report, co-host Meredith Vieira discussed the case with the former head of the New York City Sex Crimes Unit, Linda Fairstein. Vieira began by touting: "There are some people in France who are speculating that this could be a political set-up." The headline on screen at that time had changed to read: "Sexual Assault or Political Plot?; The Case Against French Banker Strauss-Kahn."
Vieira acknowledged that "investigators think they are building a good case based on evidence that they uncovered at the hotel." Fairstein pointed out: "It seems because of the immediate outcry the woman made, the crime scene unit finding forensic evidence of value in the hotel, that the prosecution was building a strong case. The NYPD Special Victims Unit and DA's office unit, they're both extremely experienced, they are aware, of course, of false reporting."
NBC touted the conspiracy theories surrounding the case as the news broke. On Monday's Today, Lauer talked to Newsweek's Paris bureau chief Christopher Dickey, and gave credibility to the bizarre claims: "Talk to me about the more conspiratorial aspect of this....there are some people speculating that this was more than just a chance encounter. That, in fact, Strauss-Kahn was set up. And some have even speculated...that Nicolas Sarkozy could have been behind something like this. Take me through it."
Dickey went after Sarkozy: "He's seen as an absolutely ruthless, no-holds-barred politician. Some people even compare him to the gangster actor Joe Pesci, just in his manner. That's one of the reasons the French don't like him. They don't like his style." He then explained: "So the minute his main political rival falls into this bizarre situation, horrible situation, in New York and is accused of crimes and is taken on a perp walk, many people sort of automatically assume Sarkozy must have had something to do with this."
Dickey then offered a disclaimer: "But of course, nobody has any proof. There's not any indication. And one Sarkozy adviser I said – I talked to said, very cynically, 'If he were going to do this, and he didn't, it's too early in the campaign. He would have waited until closer to the vote.' So it's that kind of environment, all conspiratorial, no facts."
That didn't stop NBC from continuing the conspiracy talk on Tuesday.
Here is a full transcript of Lauer's May 16 discussion with Dickey:
MATT LAUER: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor. Christopher, good to see you. Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: Always a pleasure, Matt.
LAUER: This story, as you might imagine, Christopher, is getting an awful lot of attention here in the States. What's the response there in France?
DICKEY: It's huge. Every – every front page has bannered the story. The tabloids have enormous pictures of a chagrined-looking Strauss-Kahn, pictures usually taken a while ago. Everybody's hanging on every detail and trying to figure out what really happened.
LAUER: Jeff Rossen just kind of laid out a little bit of his background for us, some of the situations he's been involved with in the past. Would it be safe to say that the people there in France feel this fits some kind of a profile with this guy?
DICKEY: Not exactly. I mean, people knew he was a womanizer, they believed that anyway. He certainly had that reputation. He's been married three times. His name's been linked to various women, but not, generally speaking, in a violent sense, except for this one young woman, a woman named Tristan Banon, who went on TV in 2007, five years after the events, and said that he had tried to rape her when she was visiting him. And she was a friend of the family, she's somebody that he knew quite well. So it's – this violent behavior is not something that people would associate with him, no.
LAUER: By all accounts this is a guy who had plans for the future in France. Talk to me a little bit about his political power there and political popularity, especially considering he was considering announcing he was running for president next year.
DICKEY: Well, he was almost certainly going to announce that he was going to run for president. And all the polls have showed that if he ran for president, at least as of two days ago, if he had run for president, he would have beaten the sitting president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He was leading everybody in the polls by a wide margin. The entire Socialist Party, except for just one or two people, was essentially pulling back and saying, 'This guy is going to be our candidate,' even though it wasn't announced. And it couldn't be announced mainly because he was still running the IMF and he had to wait until just the propiscious moment which was – everybody expected would be next month. Now he probably won't even be able to come back to France next month.
LAUER: We all know that in this country, and in most countries, you are innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, but the eyes of voters can be something very different. Now that we're seeing these images of this guy being walked to a car in what we call a perp walk. Do those images end his political future?
DICKEY: Of course they do. They certainly end any possibility that he will be running for president of France any time soon. Now, it is conceivable that if a few months from now, a year from now, he's cleared on these charges, he could come back into government life. He could even come back as a minister in a socialist government. But Dominique Strauss-Kahn as president of France, which is what everybody in France pretty much thought would happen, that's not going to happen now.
LAUER: Alright. And now talk to me about the more conspiratorial aspect of this. There are reports – I read some of your reporting over the weekend, Christopher – where there are some people speculating that this was more than just a chance encounter. That, in fact, Strauss-Kahn was set up. And some have even speculated – I'm talking about by his political enemies – that Nicolas Sarkozy could have been behind something like this. Take me through it.
DICKEY: Well, I think you have to start with the question of Sarkozy's reputation. He's seen as an absolutely ruthless, no-holds-barred politician. Some people even compare him to the gangster actor Joe Pesci, just in his manner. That's one of the reasons the French don't like him. They don't like his style. So the minute his main political rival falls into this bizarre situation, horrible situation in New York and is accused of crimes and is taken on a perp walk, many people sort of automatically assume Sarkozy must have had something to do with this. But of course, nobody has any proof. There's not any indication. And one Sarkozy adviser I said – I talked to said, very cynically, 'If he were going to do this, and he didn't, it's too early in the campaign. He would have waited until closer to the vote.' So it's that kind of environment, all conspiratorial, no facts.
LAUER: Christopher Dickey, joining us from Paris this morning. As always, Christopher, nice to see you. Thank you very much.
DICKEY: My pleasure, Matt.