Former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn admitted on Sunday his encounter with a New York hotel maid had been a "moral failing" but insisted he had not tried to rape her.
Strauss-Kahn said he had let down both his loyal wife and the French people and admitted he had abandoned his hopes of running from president, but denied he had been violent in his relations with two women who brought charges.
The 62-year-old socialist politician and economist was speaking in public for the first time since he returned to France after the New York case and since being questioned by French detectives over the second case.
Interviewed on the TF1 network news by Claire Chazal, a friend of his wife, Strauss-Kahn adopted a combative tone but regretful words, trying to rescue his reputation while writing off his immediate political prospects.
"What happened involved neither violence nor constraint: no criminal act," he told Chazal when asked what had happened in his Manhattan hotel suite on May 14, shortly before his arrest on sexual assault charges.
Strauss-Kahn described his seven-minute encounter with maid Nafissatou Diallo as a "moral failing of which I am not proud" but insisted investigators found "no scratches, no wounds, no sign of violence" on her body.
He also denied attacking Tristane Banon, a young French author who is the daughter of a family friend and 30 years his junior -- and who has lodged a complaint alleging he tried to rape her in an empty Paris flat in 2003.
Again Strauss-Kahn did not deny that there had been an encounter, but said: "I was interviewed as a witness. I told the truth that in this meeting there had been no aggression, no violence, I will say no more.
"The version that has been reported is imaginary, slanderous," he added.
Despite his denials, however, he admitted that he could "obviously" no longer be a candidate for next year's presidential elections, and said he would play no role in the debate surrounding upcoming Socialist primary.
Instead, he said he would "take time to reflect" before deciding on whether to resume his political career.
Feminists protested in front of the studio as Strauss-Kahn arrived and a poll showed more than half of voters hoped he would abandon his presidential ambitions -- or what he called "his appointment with the French."
In what was clearly a measured and well-prepared response, Strauss-Kahn accepted he would have to spend time on the sidelines and miss next year's race, but hinted at a future political comeback.
He also firmly insisted he would not cut a deal to cut short Diallo's civil case against him in the New York courts, and vowed to pursue a defamation case he has lodged against Banon in response to her claim.
Four months ago Strauss-Kahn was expected to win the Socialist nomination for next year's French presidential election, and polls made him favourite to go on to sweep centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy from office.
But that was before Diallo accused him of assault and attempted rape.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested, handcuffed and briefly jailed, but the criminal trial collapsed when the New York prosecutor said the Guinean maid's history of deceit and inconsistent testimony made her an unreliable witness.
Strauss-Kahn's multi-millionaire heiress wife Anne Sinclair has stood by him. But Diallo is pressing forward with a civil case for damages and police interviewed him about Banon's separate charge this week.
As yet, Paris prosecutors have not decided whether or not to charge Strauss-Kahn in the Banon case, but legal observers here feel it would be a hard case to prove eight years on.
The Socialist party primary campaign has now got underway without DSK, and none of the other candidates would welcome their former comrade's interference in the already tight race while the scandal still hangs over him.
One, anti-globalist outsider Arnaud de Montebourg, urged Strauss-Kahn to apologise for embarrassing the left, and party leader Martine Aubry distanced herself, saying she thinks "what most women think" about her former ally.
Feminist group La Barbe -- known for its ironic protests and for wearing false beards at demos -- had sarcastically called for a protest outside TF1 "in support of the Great White Men and their virile traditions."