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Salahi Denies Being White House Party-Crasher

Tuesday, 01 Dec 2009 07:36 AM

 

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The man who got into a White House dinner without an invitation denied Tuesday that he and his wife were gatecrashers.

Appearing on a nationally broadcast morning news show with his wife, Michaele, Tareq Salahi said the furor surrounding their attendance at the state dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister has been a "most devastating" experience.

Salahi said in the interview Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show that there was more to the story -- an explanation that would exonerate the couple from allegations of misconduct in the breach of White House security. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, appearing on the same program, stood by the administration's position that the Salahis were gatecrashers.

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"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."

A week after they crashed the Obama administration's first state dinner, Michaele and Tareq Salahi are telling their side of the story on national television.

The Salahis were scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday morning by Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today." Despite reports that the couple was seeking payment to be interviewed, an NBC spokeswoman insisted, "No money changed hands."

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 White House dinner Nov. 24 and shake hands with President Barack 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."

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.

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.

___

Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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