WH gate-crashers went without confirmed invitation

WASHINGTON - December 2, 2009

Tareq and Michaele Salahi pressed the friendly Pentagon aide for four days to score tickets to the big event. By their own admission in the e-mails, they showed up at the White House gates at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 without an invitation - "to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list!"

But the Secret Service has said they weren't on that list and that it erred by letting them in anyway.

In an e-mail sent just hours after last week's dinner to Pentagon official Michele Jones, the Salahis claimed a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing Jones' voice mail earlier that day advising them they did not make the guest list.

A collection of e-mails between the Salahis and Jones was obtained Tuesday night by The Associated Press from a source who got them in a manner that confirmed their authenticity.

Last week's White House caper has captivated a capital where high-end social life and celebrity eruptions frequently enliven the day-to-day business of governing. Congress also is about to hold a hearing. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are described as angry. And the Salahis asked a national television audience to take their word that the e-mail exchange would show that they were invited to the dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister.

Earlier Tuesday evening, the administration said it will make at least one change to its practices for invitation-only events: The White House social office will go back to making sure that one of its staff members will be present at the gates to help the Secret Service if questions come up, the first lady's communication director, Camille Johnston, said.

Johnston maintained that this has been an existing policy, but the White House and Secret Service have said no such person was present last week as guests arrived for the dinner. Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the plan for the dinner did not call for a social office employee to be at the gate but agents didn't call the office to ask for assistance or clarification.

The e-mails between the Salahis and Jones show the couple contacted Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a Pentagon-based White House liaison, for help getting the invitation they so eagerly sought. Jones e-mailed that she would try to get them access to part of the state dinner and asked for their Social Security numbers and other data needed for clearance.

An administration official said Tuesday night that Jones had her deputy e-mail the Salahis' information to the White House Office of Public Engagement.

The day before the state dinner, Jones e-mailed Tareq Salahi that she was still trying, "but it doesn't seem likely." Salahi replied with a list of people he said were invited to the dinner but unable to make it, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his wife. Jones replied, "This will help also!"

At 8:46 a.m. the day of the dinner, Jones wrote, "I will call or e-mail as soon as I get word one way or another."

According to the administration official, the White House told Jones the Salahis could not get into the dinner and Jones then left the Salahis a voice mail before the dinner saying they did not get an invitation. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the e-mails, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The e-mails show the Salahis had told Jones earlier that the best way to reach them was through their cell phone.

At 1 a.m. Wednesday - hours after the dinner ended - the Salahis e-mailed Jones to say their "cell phone battery died early this evening while we were in D.C." and they had just received her voice mail message but had gone earlier to the White House anyway.

They wrote that they got in and had a "wonderful evening."

Jones replied: "You are most welcome. I hear the smile in your e-mail. Am delighted you and Michaele had a wonderful time."

The administration official said Jones was assuming the Salahis obtained tickets some other way because she never told them they could come.

On NBC's "Today" Tuesday morning, the Salahis said they had e-mails that would make clear they did not go to the White House uninvited, but said they could not yet provide them while they were cooperating with the Secret Service on its internal investigation.

NBC's parent company, NBC Universal, also owns the cable network Bravo. Michaele Salahi has been trying to land a part on an upcoming Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," and was filmed by the Bravo show around town as she prepared for the White House dinner.


Associated Press writers Ben Evans and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.