Lanny Davis Was More Influential in DSK Case Than Once Thought

Washington-based lawyer kept low profile throughout case

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Former IMF head Domnique Strauss-Kahn
Former IMF head Domnique Strauss-Kahn

Lanny Davis has had clients as varied as Bill Clinton, Washington Redskins Owner Dan Snyder, and Martha Stewart. His political connections include George W. Bush, a Yale fraternity brother, who once helped him score a ride aboard Air Force One.

And in 2011, Davis was tapped to pull the Sofitel, a luxury hotel chain managed by Accor Hotels, out of a dangerous "minefield."

The "minefield" came as a result of one of last year's most infamous stories: A Sofitel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, had accused the former IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of sexual assault and attempted rape.

But what the public doesn't know is how much effort Sofitel made behind the scenes.

The hotel needed a person who could cooperate with prosecutors without appearing to take sides. They found Lanny Davis, but Davis ended up believing DSK's accuser could have been telling the truth.

Much of that has now been revealed in a new book, "DSK: The Scandal That Brought Down Dominique-Strauss-Kahn," by John Solomon, an investigative reporter who followed the case for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Solomon now runs the Washington Guardian.

Whispers was given an advance copy of the book, which will be released June 5. In "DSK," Solomon portrays Davis as a powerful, though ultimately incapable, puppetmaster in the case.

When Accor Hotels recruited Davis, he "accepted, relishing a challenge with high stakes and unusual characters,"  writes Solomon. "Davis became one of the most influential players in the case whose name never surfaced in the media during the height of the drama... [He] operated like a silent assassin, sniping budding legal and media crises before they could damage Sofitel's reputation."

Solomon describes how everyone wanted something out of the Sofitel—including the DSK legal team, Diallo, and the prosecutors. Davis's job, Solomon writes, was to make sure everyone believed the hotel was playing fairly.

"In many ways, Davis's approach for the Sofitel mirrored the triangulation strategy of his old boss, Bill Clinton [during the Monica Lewinsky scandal]," muses Solomon. "Clinton's strategy was to stay between the factions and not get cornered into any one camp."

But Davis's neutral approach only worked in the DSK case for so long.

Solomon reveals that as Davis became more entrenched in the case, the lawyer became more convinced that something did happen in the hotel room that day, especially after he interviewed Diallo in person.

And Davis stayed convinced, even after it came out that Diallo had lied to get into the U.S., which turned the tide of public opinion against her.

Davis made numerous efforts to convince the prosecutors of Diallo's possible innocence, according to Solomon, including a call to the office of Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, and an invitation to a junior prosecutor to reinterview all the witnesses.

Ultimately, of course, those efforts were to no avail. In August 2011, prosecutors abandoned the case against DSK. Last month, DSK filed a countersuit against Diallo—to the tune of $1 million.

A request for comment from Davis was not immediately returned.

Update, Monday 9:00 a.m.: 

Davis told Whispers: "I take no position on her innocence, and I made that known to the prosecutors. But my opinion is that she should have received a hearing before a jury of her peers."

  • Opinion: DSK Maid May Not Be Innocent, But She Is Still a Victim
  • Opinion: How The Media Is Getting the DSK Case Wrong
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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.