Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fallout Continues From WH Party Crashers

The Secret Service has already acknowledged that they made mistakes in allowing Tareq and Michaele Salahi to enter the State Dinner hosted at the White House by President Obama in honor of the Indian Prime Minister.

But, that's not the end of the security and protocol breach. It appears that the White House staff responsible for the invitation list weren't where they were supposed to be at the time to determine whether the Salahis should be denied access. That would be Desiree Rogers and her staff.
Unlike at past state dinners, Rogers assigned no White House aides to vet guests before they went through security. Just as unusual, she was named as an invited guest rather than a staffer.

"I never sat down at a state dinner because I was always too busy taking care of what needed to be taken care of," Maria Downs, social secretary during President Gerald Ford's administration, told The Post.

"You are there all through the dinner, mingling with the guests, taking care of their needs, but you weren't a guest."

Rogers declined the committee's invitation "based on separation of powers," said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.

The move prompted immediate condemnation from Congress.

"It's a terrible decision by the White House. They are obviously stonewalling. You have to conclude there is something to hide," said Rep. Peter King (R-LI), the committee member who asked Rogers to testify.

Also declining the Committee's invitation are the Salahis. A statement issued last night by their publicist said, "Having providing all relevant information to Representatives King and [Chairman Bennie] Thompson [D-Miss], there is nothing further that they can do to assist Congress in its inquiry . . . They therefore respectfully decline to testify."

The statement adds that before the Salahis were admitted to the dinner, they presented their passports to "three different Secret Service Agents at various White House checkpoints."

Thompson later threatened to subpoena the pair.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is expected to appear.

Rogers broke protocol, especially for a freshman social secretary, when she seated herself as a guest at the dinner. Gibbs refused to say if she had invited herself or was a guest of the Obamas.
This whole mess reeks of incompetence and cronyism. And at the heart of the matter isn't just garden variety scandal, but one that affects the very security around the President of the United States. This is the kind of security breach that could have led to assassination attempts or other criminal acts. That the gate crashers were merely reality-show fame-whores is small consolation.

In fact, it is a reminder of the problems facing the White House Protocol Office, which provided Obama-centric items to various dignitaries, including the Queen of England.

That Gibbs and the White House claimed executive privilege to avoid testifying before Congress on a security issue affecting the White House and the President itself is also surprising; even they must know how bad things would look especially once Congress started looking deeper into the mess.

The Sahalis claim no wrongdoing and that they broke no laws and aren't likely to willingly testify before Congress either.

The Washington Post is reporting that the agents at the state dinner have been placed on administrative leave.

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