House panel sets hearing on White House breach
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Secret Service director and the couple who crashed the Obama administration’s first state dinner have been called to testify before Congress on Thursday about the incident.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security committee, said he wants answers about the Secret Service’s security deficiencies that allowed Michaele and Tareq Salahi into the Nov. 24 White House dinner, even though they were not on the guest list.
“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 yet to do so.
The Secret Service declined to comment on whether Director Mark Sullivan would testify on Thursday.
On Friday, Sullivan issued a statement saying that his agency is “deeply concerned and embarrassed” by the circumstances.
“The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list,” Sullivan said. “Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely. That failing is ours.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday the president shares the Secret Service director’s concern about the incident.
“That’s why there’s an investigation,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the president was not concerned about his safety and continues to have faith in the Secret Service.
The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, also said there needs to be an investigation into what happened. King said he wants to be sure the hearing does not give away Secret Service operations or methods that could tip someone off how to get into the White House. King said he’s been to at least 40 invitation-only events at the White House – including two state dinners – and security has always been tight and thorough.
The Salahis have boasted about going to the state dinner on their Facebook page: “Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!” they wrote.
Michaele Salahi is a reality TV hopeful trying to get on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of D.C.”
The couple’s publicist, Mahogany Jones, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether the Salahis would testify Thursday. But earlier Monday, Jones said allegations that the Salahis are shopping interviews and demanding money from television networks to tell their story are false.
Jones said the couple is not making any formal comments or arrangements to speak with the media. An appearance previously scheduled for Monday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live” has been canceled.
A TV executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to publicly discuss bookings had told The Associated Press that the couple’s representatives had urged networks to “get their bids in” for an interview.
Associated Press Writer Julie Pace contributed to this story.