Gatecrashers hearing focuses on White House Social Office

Gatecrashers hearing focuses on White House Social Office

A hearing to examine the recent security breach at the White House turned into a war of words Thursday as Republicans sought to shift much of the blame to a senior aide in the Obama administration.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and other GOP panel members brought up again and again that no member of White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers’s staff was present at a checkpoint that let an uninvited couple slip into the state dinner.


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“They were an integral part of the security plan for the White House for this event. For them to duck responsibility now, it’s disgraceful,” King told reporters after the hearing.


White House officials blocked Rogers from testifying Thursday, citing the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.


Democrats on the committee, including Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said her testimony was not necessary, since the breach was an issue for law enforcement and she had little or no role in planning the state dinner’s security.


Missing from the crowded committee room were Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the uninvited guests to last week’s event in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The aspiring reality-television stars announced Wednesday they were declining to testify.


That did little to lessen interest in the hearing. An army of cameramen and photographers aimed their lenses at the elevator outside the committee room before the hearing began, just in case the socialites changed their mind.


Their absence led Thompson to call for a subpoena of the couple, which he read out in a statement to two empty chairs, complete with name plates for the Salahis and unused bottle of water. The committee will vote next week whether to subpoena the Salahis to force their appearance before the panel.


King also wants to subpoena Rogers. But the New York Republican will run into stiff opposition from Democrats who are against calling the White House social secretary before the committee.


Beyond running afoul of Congress, the Salahis could be in trouble with the law. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan — the only witness who did end up testifying at the hearing — said lying to a federal agent is a crime. The couple are suspected of misrepresenting the fact that they weren’t invited to a Secret Service agent in order to gain entry to the White House complex.


Sullivan took responsibility for the Salahis’ uninvited appearance at the state dinner and said it was a breakdown by his agents in not following established protocols.


“Pure and simple, this was a human error,” Sullivan said.


Further, in response to questions from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Sullivan said the agents responsible for the breach have been placed on leave and hinted that they could be fired for their mistake.


“The individuals who have been identified have been put on administrative leave,” Sullivan said. “I will tell you that we are going to look at this, we are going to find out what the culpability was and we will take the appropriate action.”


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Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) called Sullivan a “good soldier” for coming before the committee Thursday to take blame for the security breach. Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) also commended Sullivan for appearing before the panel and was disappointed by the White House for not sending a representative to the hearing.


“Certainly not a profile in courage, certainly for a White House that talks transparency,” Carney said.


Despite the praise from lawmakers, Sullivan kept his cards close to his chest. The Secret Service director often said he could not comment in response to certain questions, referring to the ongoing criminal investigation into the incident.


Sullivan was likely more forthcoming to lawmakers after the hearing. Thompson closed the committee room to the public for an executive session so panel members could hear from Sullivan about the criminal probe.