Drama still swirls from last state dinner as Obama's second one nears

Just days before President Barack Obama hosts his second state dinner on Wednesday for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, questions remain unanswered surrounding Obama's first state dinner.

Though the infamous case of the dinner crashers will be remembered more than the curry served that night, it's a question of exactly how uninvited guests were permitted to breach White House security to attend the state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Nov. 24, 2009.

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Aspiring reality TV stars Michaele and Tareq Salahi and party promoter Carlos Allen were all granted entry to the White House and direct access to the president, despite the fact that none of them had been invited to the dinner.

The fallout from November's incident undoubtedly tarnished both the White House social secretary's office and the Secret Service, to say nothing of Allen and the Salahis. Blame ricocheted back and forth for months over whose responsibility it was to approve individual guests. Every side paid a price.

In late November, three Secret Service agents stationed at a breached White House checkpoint were placed on administrative leave. According to two Secret Service sources, those agents have yet to return to their jobs.

A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to comment on personnel issues.

In January, a federal grand jury was convened to probe whether the Salahis committed any crimes in connection with the alleged party-crashing. According to a source close to the Salahis, it is still empaneled.

In April, then-White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers resigned, for what insiders said were a host of reasons. The dinner security breach was prominent among them.

Democratic fundraiser and strategist Julianna Smoot took over from Rogers late last month, but a spokeswoman declined on Friday to say whether any more personnel changes in the social secretary's office had taken place since the November breach.

The way to prevent November's security mistakes come Wednesday night may sound overly simple, said Ron Kessler, author of "In the President's Secret Service": More name checking, more personnel and more scrutiny.

But Kessler believes these tactics are a "patch-up job." The real problem, he said, is that the Secret Service is "underfunded and understaffed."

Asked about plans to fix past issues at this week's dinner, a Secret Service spokesman would say only that the guard unit will strive on Wednesday "to offer the president the highest level of security wherever he is."

A spokeswoman for the White House social secretary's office had even less to say about the upcoming state dinner, refusing to answer any questions about guests, invitations or entertainment.

What is known so far is that guest chef Rick Bayless will travel to Washington from Chicago in advance to prepare the meal, and that he'll use greens, herbs and radishes from the White House kitchen garden.

The secrecy surrounding Wednesday's dinner has even extended to the guests themselves.

Last November, word leaked out weeks in advance about who was planning to attend the state dinner. Not so this time. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's (D) staff announced Saturday that he will attend, but other than that the list is mum thus far.