CNN's Richard Quest has interviewed Dominique Strauss-Kahn many times, but this time the agenda was different
Quest discovered Strauss-Kahn was a man who had struggled with aspects of public life
Strauss-Kahn knew his place in history would be defined by his sexual liaison with a maid in New York
But, after being hit by scandal, Strauss-Kahn is unafraid of his life's next twist
Editor’s Note: Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn spoke exclusively to CNN’s Richard Quest, who you can follow on Twitter. Watch Quest Means Business, Monday to Friday 6pm GMT.
I have interviewed Dominique Strauss-Kahn many times over the years, usually after an international summit or IMF meeting. The agenda at those interviews was the normal stuff of such events; debt, deficits and dismal economic performance.
The prospect of sitting down with the former IMF chief and asking about personal matters relating to his New York arrest seemed unseemly, and even more odd when it was to be juxtaposed with a discussion on the current economic situation.
I worried Strauss-Kahn would be too timid in giving strong views on the eurozone crisis, its leaders and the problems facing the global economy.
After all, why should a man now regarded as an outcast of scandal be willing to offend people anymore, especially as he was looking to rehabilitate his image?
But Strauss-Kahn is a man of frank views and, even with the best will in the world, he can’t help but want to express his opinions.
He was part of the troika which negotiated the original Greek bailout in 2010. He says the European Union’s repeated attempts to buy time has been a “catastrophe,” leading to the Cyprus bailout. That, he added, was “another disaster.”
On the eurozone, he is not afraid to describe the “crises in leadership” facing the union, where he says there are “lions led by sheep.”
I don’t think he had any particular leader in mind, rather a collective process in Europe built in a way that “no hard decision can be made.”
During the interview, I realize I am speaking with a man who is free of responsibility and not really worried about treading on toes.
He knows his place in history will be forever defined by seven minutes in a hotel room in New York and his sexual liaison with a maid there.
Charges of rape and sexual misconduct were dismissed after the prosecution admitted the victim involved had a history of lying and was not credible.
Asking Strauss-Kahn about this is embarrassing; our interviews until now have always been about economics and financial markets, not arrests and libertine soirees.
I try to lighten the moment suggesting there’s no easy way to ask these questions. He recognizes my predicament and quips back: “There’s no easy way to answer them.” He is ready for what is coming his way.
His anger at being paraded in handcuffs before the world’s press is still palpable. “A most terrible thing….the perp walk takes place at the moment where you are supposed to be innocent,” he told me. He maintains the events in Suite 2806 are “private.”
The problem is it’s not only the New York incident. Since then, a series of incidents have been revealed involving sexual behavior which suggests gross errors of judgment, not expected of people in high office.
“I agree, I agree,” he tells me. He calls it a “mistake” to “believe you could have a public life…..and that you can have a private life.”
He added: “I have a problem with understanding what is expected from politicians of highest levels.”
For someone who has been in the public eye for several decades, this may seem a remarkable statement. But perhaps not for someone who has been in the cloistered environment of French politics, where private and public are clearly defined and mistresses and “libertine soirees” are ignored.
Listening to Strauss-Kahn talking about the economic dangers ahead is perhaps the most interesting of our time together.
After all, he is considered one of the greatest practical economic politicians of our time, bringing together theory and practice. He has a prescient warning about the forthcoming U.S.-EU trade talks.
The U.S. wants to “dominate the world” by setting the standards for trade with agreements both across the Pacific and Atlantic, he says. “The Europeans should not be that naive.”
I am not confident Europe will avoid this fate. Pulling together the strands of our talk, Strauss-Kahn has already said that the EU cannot make a decent collective decision. He doesn’t take it this far, but I suspect he believes those sheep leading the union will lead to a trade slaughter.
Our agreed time of half an hour has passed far too quickly. I am left with the impression of a man who has discovered who his friends are and is now finding out what he wants to do next.
He says politics does not feature in that future. He is quite clear that he will not run for the French presidency. When asked, he says: “No, no.” It could not be clearer.
Strauss-Kahn is charming, witty, candid and perhaps cunning. He carries himself with the air of a man unafraid of his life’s next twist.
He knows some people will shun him and he says he respects their view. But he also believes there are those who will seek his help and advice. And for them he is ready to serve, politics be damned.