Lawmakers may question show producers about party crashers

Lawmakers may question show producers about party crashers

Reality television producers may be the next to face a congressional inquiry after the security breach at last week’s state dinner.

In a Nov. 30 letter obtained by The Hill, Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, what employees at Bravo knew before Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed the event.

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Bravo is a subsidiary of GE-owned NBC and Michaele Salahi is being considered for its upcoming reality show “The Real Housewives of D.C.” Producers filmed the Salahis preparing for the dinner.

Immelt was also a guest at last week’s dinner honoring India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

A GE spokesman said Immelt did not help the Salahis attend the event.

“The answer is of course not,” said Gary Sheffer, a company spokesman.

But Watson wants answers about Bravo’s involvement.

“Due to the seriousness of this reported incident, I’m concerned with Bravo’s participation and potential culpability in the filming of individuals who may have knowingly violated security measures, regulations or federal law in order to attend an important White House event,” Watson says in her letter.

A spokesperson for Bravo pointed to a previous statement from the cable network that said the Salahis informed producers they were invited to the dinner and were filmed preparing for it.

Watson, as chairwoman of the House Government Management, Organization and Procurement subcommittee, has been examining the dual protective and investigative missions of the Secret Service. The incident “raises significant concerns,” according to her letter.

“In light of these matters, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you Bravo’s involvement in the [Salahis’] attendance at the state dinner and its knowledge of their status as uninvited guests,” Watson wrote to Immelt.

The security procedure at a state dinner has multiple layers, according to Anita McBride, chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush. She outlined some of them in an interview with The Hill.

She noted guests can be cleared for other portions of the evening’s festivities without being cleared for the actual dinner.

The Salahis may have believed they were cleared for the pre-dinner reception.

Michele Jones, the Pentagon liaison to the White House, exchanged e-mails with the Salahis about getting them into the dinner, according to The Washington Post.

The e-mail exchange is said to include assurances from Jones that she was trying to get the couple an invitation. The Post reported the couple believed that Jones had gotten them approved only for the cocktail reception and a handshake with the president.

But Jones insists she never told the Salahis they could attend.

“I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening’s events,” Jones told the Post in a statement. “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. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come.”

A spokesman for the White House said there were not two guest lists for Tuesday’s dinner.

McBride also pointed out that guests arriving by car must go through an additional security checkpoint that pedestrians can bypass.

The Salahis, for example, reportedly were turned away from the vehicle checkpoint but re-entered on foot and breached security at the second checkpoint. That final entryway is where social office representatives have traditionally positioned themselves to clear up guest-list confusion.

Cathy Hargraves, a George W. Bush administration holdover whose job it was to coordinate guest lists at state dinners, told Newsweek that she quit her post after Obama’s staff made it clear the social office would no longer man the White House gates during formal events.

“The social office is most intimately familiar with the guest list,” McBride said.

“The reason why we had [Hargraves] posted there was that sometimes people are arriving late, and she could be in constant communication to the social secretary or the deputy social secretary,” McBride noted.

The Salahis’ attorney and publicist did not return messages seeking comment.

The White House announced late Tuesday that gate staffing policy would change.

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The social office will go back to making sure that one of its staff members is at the gates to help the Secret Service, the first lady's communication director, Camille Johnston, told The Associated Press.

Some state dinner guests remember seeing the Salahis at the event.

“I didn’t meet them, but I do remember seeing them,” said Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyHere are the Senate Democrats backing a Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine call Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE Jr. (D-Pa.). “I had my own little controversy: I lost my cummerbund.”

According to the White House pool report for the dinner, Casey’s cummerbund slithered from his waist to the floor as he passed by reporters.

In an interview Tuesday morning, the Salahis told NBC’s “Today Show” that they did not crash the dinner.

“We were invited, not crashers,” Michaele Salahi said. “There isn’t anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that … certainly not us.”
Tareq Salahi claims the couple will be vindicated.

“We are cooperating extensively with the U.S. Secret Service on their internal review and investigation,” he said. “The truth will come out.”

The White House, however, has repeatedly denied that they were invited to the event.

“This wasn’t a misunderstanding,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on the “Today Show.” “You don’t show up at the White House as a misunderstanding.”

The aspiring reality TV stars are facing questions from lawmakers over the breach of White House security. They were invited to testify before Congress on Thursday by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He also asked Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service, to appear before his panel.

Sullivan will be at the hearing. The Salahis have not said whether or not they will attend.

Further, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that there would be a classified briefing on Wednesday for panel members regarding the White House security breach.

Earlier this year, the Salahis attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) dinner, where President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhy calls for impeachment have become commonplace Meet Trump's most trusted pollsters Reducing NSC staff places Trump on right side of history MORE was the keynote speaker, but there are questions about whether or not they were invited.

WTTG-TV, a Fox affiliate, reported that the Salahis said they’d gotten the invitation from the Gardner Law Group.

But Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the CBCF, said that the couple was escorted out of the Sept. 26 dinner. “The couple was approached by CBCF staff when they were alerted about a ticket dispute at the table. Upon asking for tickets for the table, which the Salahis could not produce, the couple was asked to leave and they complied,” she said in a statement.

“They didn’t argue,” Cooper told The Associated Press. “They just looked a little sheepish and were escorted out.”

Cooper said a Bravo camera crew asked to shoot video at the event but was turned down because of the heavy security required for Obama’s appearance.

She said that in hindsight, she thinks the request was linked to the Salahis.

On the “Today Show,” the Salahis said they were invited to the CBCF dinner.

The security breach also opens up questions regarding the Secret Service. The agency has already apologized for the incident, but lawmakers will continue to probe the service, starting with Thompson’s hearing Thursday.

A Congressional Research Service report, issued in September this year, raised questions about whether the agency had enough resources for its many functions, from protecting the president to investigating counterfeiting activity.

In 2003, the agency left its longtime home of the Treasury Department for the then-newly created Homeland Security Department. Members have since questioned whether that is the appropriate home for the service.


Emily Goodin, Sam Youngman and Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.