Salahi denies being White House party-crasher

In this Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 photo, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, right, arrive at a state dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House in Washington. The Secret Service is looking into its own security procedures after determining that the Virginia couple managed to slip into Tuesday night's state dinner at the White House even though they were not on the guest list, agency spokesman Ed Donovan said. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
December 1, 2009 6:50:58 AM PST
The couple that got into the White House state dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister without invitations denied Tuesday that they were gatecrashers.

Appearing on a nationally broadcast morning news show with his wife, Tareq Salahi said the furor surrounding his and his wife Michaele's attendance at the dinner a week ago has been a "most devastating" experience. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as angered by the incident.

Salahi told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday there's more to their side of the story - an explanation that would exonerate them from allegations of misconduct in the breach of White House security. Appearing on the same program, Gibbs insisted the Salahis had not been invited.

"This wasn't a misunderstanding," Gibbs said. "You don't show up at the White House as a misunderstanding."

For his part, Salahi said he and his wife were cooperating with the Secret Service in its investigation of the incident a week ago. And he said they both have "great respect" for President Barack Obama.

"We're greatly saddened by all the circumstances ... portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you we did not party-crash the White House," Salahi said.

The White House gate caper captivated a capital frequently as well known for its high-end social life and celebrity eruptions as the occasionally mundane day-to-day business of governance.

Interviewed on MSNBC, Gibbs said "it's safe to say he (Obama) was angry. Michelle was angry."

Gibbs noted that the Secret Service is investigating what went wrong and said the White House was also re-examining its procedures. He told the network, "I think the president really had the same reaction the Secret Service had, and that was great concern for how something like this happened."

Michaele Salahi described the couple as "shocked and devastated" when they saw accounts of the incident the following morning.

Asked if they had been mischaracterized through the media and other paparazzi forums," Tareq Salahi said, "No question ... It's been devastating what's happened to Michaele and I ... Our lives have really been destroyed."

"Everything we've worked for," Michaele Talahi told interviewer Matt Lauer.

"We were invited, not crashers, and there isn't anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that," she said. "No one would do that, and certainly not us."

Tareq Salahi said that the couple has been "very candid" with the Secret Service and said "we have turned over documentation to them."

"We're going to definitely work with the Secret Service between Michaele and I to really shed light on this," Tareq Salahi said. He indicated the couple had e-mails that would reinforce their position that they did not go uninvited to the dinner.

The couple also said they had not discussed accepting money from any party or organization, including NBC, for telling their story.

NBC's parent company, NBC Universal, also owns the cable network Bravo. Michaele Salahi had hoped to land a part on an upcoming Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C."

On Monday there were more twists in the unfolding mystery of how the Virginia couple managed to get into the highly secured White House dinner Nov. 24 and shake hands with Obama. It was revealed that they communicated with a senior Pentagon official about going to the event, but the official denied that she helped the couple get in.

Michele Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said in a written statement issued through the White House that she never said or implied she would get the Salahis into the event.

"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," Jones said. "Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

Asked about this Tuesday, Gibbs declined to comment directly, except to note that the matter remains under investigation.

WTTG-TV, the Fox affiliate in Washington, reported on a similar incident a month before, in which the Salahis sneaked in through a back entrance to a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards dinner at which Obama spoke. A guest complained that the couple didn't belong at his table.

"I double-checked my (guest) list and when they weren't on that list we escorted them out," a foundation representative, Lance Jones, said in an interview early Tuesday.

The Salahis insisted that they had, indeed, been invited to the Black Caucus dinner, saying they'd gotten the invitation from the Gardner Law Group.

The Salahis' lawyer, Paul Gardner, is the managing partner of the Baltimore law firm, which handles corporate and entertainment lazw. A message left early Tuesday at the law firm was not immediately returned.

Also on Monday, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee asked the couple, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to testify at a hearing Thursday on the incident.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he wants answers about the Secret Service's security deficiencies that allowed the Salahis to attend the White House dinner. A White House photo showed the Salahis in the receiving line in the Blue Room with Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in whose honor the dinner was held.

"This is a time for answers," Thompson said in a statement Monday. "This is not the time for political games or scapegoating to distract our attention from the careful oversight we must apply to the Secret Service and its mission."

Some lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be brought against the couple, but the Secret Service has not yet decided whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution.

The Secret Service declined to comment on whether Sullivan would testify Thursday.

The couple's publicist, Mahogany Jones, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether the Salahis would testify Thursday. But earlier Monday, she said allegations that the Salahis were shopping interviews and demanding money from television networks to tell their story are false.

A TV executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to publicly discuss bookings told The Associated Press that the couple's representatives had urged networks to "get their bids in" for an interview.


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