PARIS — Dominique Strauss-Kahn broke his silence four months after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault, calling his encounter with the woman a "moral failing" he deeply regrets, but insisting in an interview on French television Sunday that no violence was involved.
Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a one-time top presidential contender in his native France, also denied using violence against a French writer who claims he tried to rape her in a separate 2003 incident.
Throughout what appeared to be a heavily scripted 20-minute-long interview with French broadcaster TF1, Strauss-Kahn managed to come off as contrite even as the Socialist politician insisted he hadn't forced himself on either of the women.
He said his May 14 sexual encounter with Nafissatou Diallo, an African immigrant who claimed that he attacked her when she entered his room in Manhattan's Sofitel hotel to clean it, "did not involve violence, constraint or aggression."
Still, he acknowledged, it "was a moral failing and I am not proud of it. I regret it infinitely. I have regretted it everyday for the past four months and I think I'm not done regretting it.
It "was not only an inappropriate relationship, but more than that, it was a failing ... a failing vis-a-vis my wife, my children and my friends but also a failing vis-a-vis the French people, who had vested their hopes for change in me."
Strauss-Kahn resigned from the IMF's top job in the wake of the scandal. Though he didn't rule out a future return to politics, the man once widely regarded as the Socialist party's best hope at beating France's incumbent conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy said he needed to take time to think about his future.
Strauss-Kahn, who had a long-standing reputation as a man with a weakness for sex and women, said the Diallo imbroglio had profoundly changed him.
"I've seen the pain that I caused around me and I thought, I thought a lot," he said. "That lightness, I've lost it for good."
The interview was more than an extended mea culpa, though. Strauss-Kahn lashed out both at Diallo and, more broadly, at the U.S. justice system, which by allowing him to be paraded handcuffed before cameras he said had irreparably tarnished his image.
"When you are snatched up by the jaws of that machine, you have the impression that it can crush you," he said. "I felt that I was trampled on, humiliated, even before I had the chance to say a word," he said. Under French law, it's illegal to show suspects in handcuffs.
Strauss-Kahn said that the New York prosecutor — who dropped all criminal charges against him in the Diallo case last month — had concluded the maid "lied about everything.
"Not only about her past, that's of no importance, but also about what happened. The (prosecutor's) report says, it's written there, that 'she presented so many different versions of what happened that I can't believe a word,'" he said.
He added he suspected financial motives might have been behind Diallo's accusations. She has filed a lawsuit against him, but Strauss-Kahn insisted Sunday he wouldn't negotiate a settlement.
He also proclaimed his innocence in a separate legal battle pitting him against a young French writer and journalist who alleges he tried to rape her during a 2003 interview for a book she was writing.
The writer, Tristane Banon, has maintained she and Strauss-Kahn ended up tussled on the floor during an interview in an empty apartment, with the politician trying to open her jeans and bra and putting his fingers in her mouth and underwear.
"The version that was presented (by Banon) is an imaginary version, a slanderous version," Strauss-Kahn said, adding that "no act of aggression, no violence" had taken place between the two.
Because a police investigation into the claims is ongoing, Strauss-Kahn declined to say anything more about the matter. If Paris prosecutors decide to pursue the case, Strauss-Kahn could face a possible trial.
Asked whether he had any intention of returning to politics, Strauss-Kahn said he would "take time to reflect" before making any decision.
"But all my life was consecrated to being useful to the public good," he said. "We will see."
During the interview, Strauss-Kahn praised his wife, Anne Sinclair, former TF1 news anchor and wealthy heiress who he called an "exceptional woman."
"I wouldn't have gotten through it without her," he said. "I hurt her, I know, and I'm sorry. But you know that she wouldn't have been there for me, by my side, she wouldn't have supported me in that way if from the very first second she didn't know that I was innocent."
Strauss-Kahn also defended the large sums of money spent on his defense in the Diallo case. In addition to his legal team's fees, Strauss-Kahn was also initially subject to extensive and expensive bond conditions, including security measures estimated at about $200,000 a month, on top of the $50,000-a-month rent on a town house in New York's trendy TriBeCa neighborhood.
While he understood that they could seem shocking, "compared with the daily difficulties that French people face," he felt he had to do everything within his means to stay out of prison in Riker's Island, where he had initially been detained for nearly a week.
A small group of demonstrators gathered outside of TF1's Paris headquarters Sunday to denounce Strauss-Kahn. The protest was called by two feminist groups.
The AP does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified or come forward publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
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