Virgina couple accused of crashing the White House state dinner last
November invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against
self-incrimination and refused to answer questions on Wednesday.
Tareq and Michaele Salahi — the so-called "gatecrashers" — refused to answer questions during an appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee amid a criminal investigation of the incident.
"We reiterate that, on advice of counsel, we respectfully invoke our right to remain silent and will decline to answer any questions surrounding the circumstances around the events of Nov. 24, 2009," Tareq Salahi said in his opening statement before a packed committee room full of media and onlookers.
incident has sparked some partisan infighting among the committee's
members. Republicans have argued that White House social secretary
Desiree Rogers should come before the panel to testify about changes to
protocol that may have allowed the Salahis to gain access to the White
GOPers on the committee have said that the White House is blocking Rogers from testifying in order to hide what may have been a gaffe on its part.
"I don't know what the White House is trying to hide. I don't know why they won't allow Desiree Rogers to testify," said the panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Pete King (N.Y.). "It sets the wrong climate and the wrong tone and it is inexcusable."
While most Democrats on the panel stayed mum about Rogers, one centrist Democrat joined Republican calls for Rogers to testify.
"I agree with my Republican colleagues; Ms. Rogers should come and tell the third side of the story," said Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.).
U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan previously testified before the panel and took responsibility for the incident on behalf of his agency.
Republican lawmakers counter that a protocol change that made it no longer mandatory for a Secret Service officer to verify the security list at the front gate during official functions could have led to the gatecrashing.
Several lawmakers spent their time taking shots at the Salahis after they refused to answer questions.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) took issue with a portion of the Salahis' opening statement in which they said they support law enforcement personnel.
"To have engaged in conduct that undercut the seriousness of our role to protect the president as some some sort of reality TV stunt is an affront to the seriousness of the issues that are before us today," Lungren said.
While most members of the panel who asked questions said they respected the Salahis' right to take the fifth, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said otherwise.
"I don't respect your right to take the Fifth Amendment. Not at all," he said.
Pascrell, who was visibly angry, proceeded to ask Tareq Salahi a series of off-beat questions.
"Did you order a tuxedo?" Pascrell asked. "Were you at the White House?"
After Mr. Salahi refused to answer the questions, Pascrell shot back "Are you here today, Mr. Salahi?"
"You made a mockery of this country," said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), who repeatedly referred to the couple as the "Salahias."
"I would ask you to check your patriotism and would ask you to find out why you would do something of that magnitude."