Invite for crashers... testify on the Hill

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked Michaele and Tareq Salahi to appear before his panel and explain how they slipped passed Secret Service checkpoints without a dinner invitation.

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Thompson has also asked Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to testify.

“The intent of this administration may be openness and transparency, but a security breakdown that allowed anyone who looked the part to walk off the street into a state dinner is a slap in the face to the Secret Service employees who put their lives on the line to protect our form of government and its leaders,” Thompson said.

The Salahis have not spoken out publicly since last week’s dinner, where they managed to meet President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAbrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda  The root of Joe Biden's troubles MORE, Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin lays down demands for child tax credit: report Abrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability MORE and other dignitaries. The couple’s attorney has insisted that they were “cleared” to attend by the White House, but both the Secret Service and White House claim otherwise.

As of Monday evening, the couple had not responded to the committee’s request. The couple’s attorney and publicist were unavailable for comment.

A spokesman for the committee would not comment on whether a subpoena would be issued. Sullivan will testify, according to sources.

The hearing will focus on how security protocol broke down, what can be done to prevent future lapses and whether Secret Service management is at fault.

The Homeland Security Committee has previously investigated charges of mismanagement and insufficient resources at the Secret Service.

Thompson hinted that the hearings could lead to changes in Secret Service leadership.

“My confidence in the management of the Secret Service hangs in the balance,” he said in a statement.

The Secret Service has taken responsibility for the lapse, saying an employee didn’t follow proper procedure.

“There’s certainly a potential for changes to be made in the process, but we have to ensure that our procedures are followed,” said spokesman Ed Donovan.

At Monday’s press briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to say whether White House staff would be investigated.

“My understanding is that the Secret Service will look at what the Secret Service did,” he said.

It remains unclear exactly how the Salahis managed to get inside the White House without being on the guest list.

Reports surfaced Monday evening that Michele Jones, the Pentagon liaison to the White House, exchanged e-mails with the Salahis about getting them into the dinner.

If true, this would lend credence to the Salahis’ argument that they thought they were cleared to attend.

“There was e-mail correspondence confirming they were legitimately supposed to be there,” Casey Margenau, a friend of the couple, told The Washington Post, which first reported the e-mails.

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.”

At previous state dinners, a representative of the White House Social Office stood at the gates to check names, according to a former George W. Bush administration official. This year, at the Obamas’ first state dinner, only the Secret Service was present.

Cathy Hargraves, a 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.

Hargraves told the magazine that during her tenure it was not uncommon for guests arriving at state dinners to discover their names weren’t on the list. In such situations, she said, she always refused the people entry until she could verify their invite.

She said if she had been there Tuesday night, the Salahis “would not have made it past the East Gate portico.”

Former White House chief usher Gary Walters told the Daily Beast he is “baffled” as to how the Salahis got into the event.

“You have to have someone from the White House who knows the participants and can assist a guest in case they forgot their ID or have a problem,” he said. “That’s standard procedure, and this was a real faux pas.

“There were so many red flags; there was obviously a slip-up in procedures in both the social office and the police,” he noted.

Walters also said the White House staff should have been suspicious of the Salahis’ picture-taking. The couple posted pictures on their Facebook page of themselves with Biden and other guests.

But their camera should have been a warning sign for the White House, Walters said.

“We discourage cameras and taking pictures in the White House — someone should have caught onto that right away,” he said.

The Secret Service has interviewed the Salahis as part of an investigation into the security lapse, according to reports. It is possible criminal charges will be filed.

The bad publicity comes at a difficult time for the agency. The holiday season is one of the busiest periods on the White House social calendar.

The administration throws numerous Christmas parties each year for lawmakers, staffers and journalists. At each event, hundreds of guests and guests of guests must pass security checkpoints similar to a state dinner.

Attendees then line up to have their picture taken with the president.

Walters told the Daily Beast that between 8,000 and 15,000 people are scheduled to be at the White House during the holiday season. He also expects there to be significant changes in entry procedures. “Everyone will pay a lot more attention,” he said. “And there’s going to be a lot more training sessions for the police at the gate.”

After the high-profile lapse at the state dinner, observers will be watching carefully to see who shows up next to Obama.

Also unclear is how this will affect Michaele Salahi’s reality-TV career.

She has been trying to get on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Washington,” a spin-off of the network’s highly successful “Real Housewives” franchise. Bravo confirmed Michaele Salahi is under consideration for the show but said the cast has not been finalized.


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