Strauss-Kahn maid's interviews fuel legal fires

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The surprise emergence from hiding of the maid who accuses Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape has raised the stakes again in the torrid case a week ahead of the next court hearing.

Strauss-Kahn has been freed from house arrest and New York prosecutors suggest their case is on the point of collapse because of problems with certain aspects of the maid's credibility.

So the sudden appearance of Nafissatou Diallo on ABC television and in a lengthy interview with Newsweek gives the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant a shot at wrestling momentum back in her favor.

The interviews, breaking 10 weeks of silence from the woman who says Strauss-Kahn forced her into oral sex in his luxury hotel room, brought little new in the way of allegations.

However, they put a human, at times tearful face on Diallo whose media star has fallen so far that the New York Post, a powerful tabloid, has even painted her as a prostitute.

The media offensive in the run-up to Strauss-Kahn's August 1 hearing in New York state court is partly aimed at pressuring the office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance not to give up the prosecution, legal expert Brenda Smith said.

"The timing of this is really to increase the chances that the prosecution will move forward, that there is outrage," Smith, a professor at American University Washington College of Law and an expert on sexual violence, said.

"Prosecutors are very sensitive to what the public thinks. I suspect they're going to be looking at the tea leaves."

But she said Diallo's attempt to play the public opinion battle is a "high risk strategy" that also exposes her even more than she already is to being shredded under cross-examination as a gold digger who exaggerated and changed her story.

If Vance -- reeling from the embarrassing setbacks over his attempt to prosecute Strauss-Kahn -- is under pressure from Diallo's lawyers, then he's also taking fire from the defendant.

In a withering statement Monday, Strauss-Kahn's high-flying attorneys William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman accused Diallo of trying "to wage a media campaign intended to force a prosecutor to pursue charges against an innocent person, an innocent person from whom Ms Diallo wants money."

They called her interviews "a desperate distraction from the key fact that Ms Diallo has had to admit to misleading these very same prosecutors from the beginning."

"The cause of justice here is served only when criminal charges are dropped and this unseemly circus comes to an end," the lawyers said.

Matthew Galluzzo, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit, said Diallo was not helping her case with the "soapbox stuff."

"To need to do this kind of thing suggests there's no case. If there was a case you wouldn't need to do this kind of thing," he said.

What Diallo's lawyer Kenneth Thompson might really be doing is laying groundwork for his civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn.

A civil suit seeking financial compensation from Strauss-Kahn would have a stronger basis if it came on the back of a successful criminal trial. Taylor and Brafman claim that Thompson knows "that her claim for money suffers a fatal blow when the criminal charges are dismissed as they must be."

But experts say that a civil suit could go ahead regardless of the outcome of the criminal case.

"He's got deep pockets, why not?" Galluzzo asked. "Strauss-Kahn's a vulnerable person. Famous people, people with means are vulnerable by definition."

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