Video: Crashed party puts heat on WH Social Secretary

  1. Closed captioning of: Crashed party puts heat on WH Social Secretary

    >> windemere, florida.

    >>> as we said at the top of the broadcast tonight, this is a busy week at the white house . so the administration could proudly do without all of the lingering questions about those uninvited guests at last week's state dinner and what it all says about the state of security around the president. it's not every day after all the secret service admits to being embarrassed. the latest on that story now from our white house correspondent savannah guthrie . savannah, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian . today was the first chance reporters had to question white house officials on camera about the security lapse, and senior officials were -- made it very clear this was a secret service error. peppered by the press, the president's spokesman robert gibbs today rejected suggestions that the white house social office bears any responsibility for the now-infamous state dinner crash.

    >> no call or reach-out ever came to anybody in terms of staff from the secret service about whether or not there was confusion on a name on a list.

    >> reporter: a guest that night at the dinner, white house social secretary dezerrie rogers has acknowledged neither she nor her staff were present at the security checkpoint where a secret service officer allowed tareq and michaele salahi to pass. even though they weren't on the guest list. but the white house said social office staff was available between checkpoints to deal with any problems and the secret service has accepted responsibility. former secret service director ralph basham --

    >> having someone there from the social office that the agent or officer can hand off this individual or individuals to -- to clarify their situation certainly would have -- it could have made a difference here.

    >> mr. and mrs. salahi.

    >> reporter: since their tuesday night national district attorney buy, the once spotlight-hungry salahis have been out of sight. the spokeswoman today denied reports the couple was peddling an interview to media outlets, looking for a big payout. publicist jones said -- the salahis are not shopping any interviews or demanding money from any media networks to tell their story. meanwhile, a house committee has summoned the salahis to testify thursday, along with the secret service director. and the couple has been interviewed by the secret service , though legal experts say a criminal case against the couple isn't necessarily a slam dunk .

    >> i don't know that there's a great likelihood of convicting them where we know that these people were let on the premises to begin with.

    >> reporter: among the charges the government is said to be considering is misdemeanor trespassing. the thinking it is may serve as a deterrent and discourage the couple from profiting from this, but isn't in any way from this but it's not as heavy-handed as a felony, especially given the secret service 's own admission of fault here. by the way, brian , the couple's lawyer said the white house and the white house lawyer said they were not invited.

    >> savannah, while we point out anything have to to do with this couple. that being said, there's a report tonight of the a possible pentagon connection between the couple and their possible attendance at the state dinner .

    >> that's right. wa "the washington post " is reporting late today, late today michele jones , a department of defense official, had corresponded with the salahis in an effort to get them into the dinner. but we have a statement from ms. michele jones saying she did not i invite them to the state dinner , she had no authority to do so and they were not invited to the state dinner . so just another layer to all of this tonight, brian .

    >> savannah guthrie at the white house . savannah, thanks.

    >>> when our broadcast continues this

updated 12/1/2009 12:48:22 AM ET 2009-12-01T05:48:22

The couple who crashed the Obama administration's first state dinner communicated with a senior Pentagon official about going to the event, but the official denies that she helped the couple get in.

Michele Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said in a written statement issued through the White House on Monday evening that she never said or implied she would get Michaele and Tareq Salahi into the Nov. 24 White House dinner.

"I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities," Jones said. "Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

This is the latest twist in the unfolding mystery of how the two reality show wannabes managed to get into the highly secured event and shake hands with President Barack Obama. Also on Monday, a House committee chairman asked the couple, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to testify at a hearing Thursday on the incident.

Crashed earlier event
WTTG-TV, the Fox affiliate in Washington, reported late Monday that the Salahis also crashed a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards dinner on Sept. 26 at which Obama spoke. The station's Web site quoted a foundation representative, Lance Jones, as saying the Salahis were escorted out by security guards after they were caught sitting at a table.

The station said that when the Salahis showed up at the dinner, they were followed by TV cameras from Bravo, which airs the "Real Housewives" reality programs, but were turned away at the door. WTTG reported that the Salahis later sneaked in through a busboy-catering entrance, and the station's Web site posted photos purported to be from the Black Caucus event.

Most the attendees at the event did not have access to Obama, WTTG reported.

A call to the Secret Service seeking comment was not immediately returned late Monday.

The White House issued Michele Jones' statement after questions were raised about communications between the administration and the couple prior to the state dinner. The White House did not provide details about Jones' relationship with the couple. Jones spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver on Obama's behalf, and is currently a Pentagon-based liaison with the White House.

Call for criminal charges
A friend of the couple, McLean, Va., real estate agent Casey Margenau, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the couple interpreted an e-mail exchange as permission to attend the exclusive White House event. Margenau said he did not personally see the e-mails and did not know with whom the couple was corresponding.

Video: Crashing the White House state dinner Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wants answers about the Secret Service's security deficiencies that allowed the Salahis to attend the White House dinner. A White House photo showed the Salahis in the receiving line in the Blue Room with Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in whose honor the dinner was held. Obama and Michaele Salahi are smiling as she grasps his right hand with both of hers and her husband looks on. Singh is to Obama's left.

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"This is a time for answers," Thompson said in a statement Monday. "This is not the time for political games or scapegoating to distract our attention from the careful oversight we must apply to the Secret Service and its mission."

Some lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be brought against the couple, but the Secret Service has not yet decided whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution.

The Secret Service declined to comment on whether Sullivan would testify Thursday.

On Friday, Sullivan issued a statement saying that his agency is "deeply concerned and embarrassed" by the circumstances surrounding the White House dinner.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the couple was not on the approved list for the party, but they were allowed in. "This should not have occurred," he said.

"The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list," Sullivan said Friday. "Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely. That failing is ours."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday the president shares the Secret Service director's concern about the incident.

"That's why there's an investigation," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the president was not concerned about his safety and continues to have faith in the Secret Service.

The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, also said there needs to be an investigation into what happened. King said he wants to be sure the hearing does not give away Secret Service operations or methods that could tip someone off how to get into the White House. King said he's been to at least 40 invitation-only events at the White House — including two state dinners — and security has always been tight and thorough.

Bragging on Facebook
The Salahis have boasted about going to the state dinner on their Facebook page: "Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!" they wrote.

Michaele Salahi is a reality TV hopeful trying to get on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C."

The couple's publicist, Mahogany Jones, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether the Salahis would testify Thursday. But earlier Monday, Mahogany Jones said allegations that the Salahis are shopping interviews and demanding money from television networks to tell their story are false.

NBC said Monday that the Salahis will be interviewed Tuesday by "Today" host Matt Lauer. The interview is scheduled to air in the 7 a.m. half-hour segment.

An appearance previously scheduled for Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" has been canceled.

A TV executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to publicly discuss bookings had told The Associated Press that the couple's representatives had urged networks to "get their bids in" for an interview.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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