World

White House gatecrashers skip security hearing

A U.S. congressional committee began a probe Thursday into a security breach at last week's White House state dinner, but the publicity-hungry couple at the centre of the uproar declined to show up.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi arrive at a state dinner hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24. ((Gerald Herbert/Associated Press))
A U.S. congressional committee began a probe Thursday into a security breach at last week's White House state dinner, but the publicity-hungry couple at the centre of the uproar declined to show up.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who were admitted to the state dinner Nov. 24 despite having no invitation, had indicated earlier that they wouldn't appear.

Their publicist, Mahogany Jones, issued a statement Wednesday saying the Salahis had already provided information to the chairman of the House of Representatives homeland security committee, as well as the Secret Service. The pair believe "there is nothing further that they can do to assist Congress in its inquiry regarding White House protocol and certain security procedures," the statement said. "They therefore respectfully decline to testify."

White House social secretary Desiree Rogers also declined to appear at the hearing.

Rogers's refusal was defended by senior White House aide Valerie Jarrett, who told ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday that executive staff rarely testify before congressional committees and there was no need for Rogers to do so because "we think we've really answered  the questions fully."

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson had said Wednesday night that if the Salahis didn't show up, the panel was prepared to move forward with subpoenas "to compel their appearance."

Representative Peter King of New York, the ranking Republican on the committee, accused the White House of "stonewalling" in not permitting Rogers to appear. He said he would favour subpoenas not only for the Salahis but for Rogers as well.

There was no indication Thursday whether the committee would follow through on those threats.

The Salahis have been trying to land a part on the reality TV show The Real Housewives of D.C. and were filmed by the show as they prepared for the White House dinner.

A picture on Michaele Salahi's Facebook page shows her with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, centre, and her husband, Tareq Salahi, at a White House state dinner Nov. 24. ((Associated Press))

After the dinner, a photo was posted on Michaele Salahi's Facebook page showing the couple with Vice-President Joe Biden. Photos on news sites show Michaele Salahi shaking hands with President Barack Obama.

Secret Service director Mark Sullivan, the lone witness at Thursday's committee hearing, said: "In our judgment, a mistake was made. In our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake.

"I fully acknowledge that the proper procedures were not followed. This flaw has not changed our agency's standard, which is to be right 100 per cent of the time."

Asked whether there was a risk posed to people attending the event — which was Obama's first state dinner, honouring the visiting prime minister of India — Sullivan said he was confident that there wasn't and, particularly, that "it did not pose a risk to the president."

With files from The Associated Press

now