White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi will face subpoenas to testify before Congress after the Virginia couple was a no-show Thursday at a House committee inquiry, though the Democrat-led homeland security panel declined to subpoena a White House official who also snubbed it.
The absences and subpoena debates occurred at a hearing where the panel also was told by the head of the Secret Service that three service employees have been put on administrative leave over the incident last week at a state dinner.
And in another surprise, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told the House panel that the number of threats against President Obama is not, as has been widely reported, higher than those made against Presidents Bush and Clinton.
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Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and the panel's chairman, ordered that the Salahis appear before his committee next week and explain how they managed to subvert White House security at a state dinner, or face contempt of Congress charges and a year in prison.
"With security failings that seemed to hang over that evening like a fog, we are all fortunate that this diplomatic celebration did not become a night of horror," Mr. Thompson said.
White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers also declined to appear before the panel, though Mr. Thompson rejected a request by Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the panel's ranking Republican, to subpoena Ms. Rogers.
Without its star witnesses, the hearing focused on Mr. Sullivan, who revealed to the panel that the three employees who were responsible for letting the Salahis into the event will remain on administrative leave until the investigation is completed.
Mr. Sullivan also surprised the panel by telling members that his agency did not learn of the security breach until the Virginia couple bragged about it on the Internet.
He told the panel that the federal security agency was made aware of the breach the next day because the Salahis had posted photos of themselves posing with the president on their public Facebook account.
"These con artists are so hungry for publicity, they exposed and revealed" security flaws, said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, District Democrat.
"What I see is this couple has pioneered a new way to breach security. Be a poser - that will get you in quicker," Mrs. Norton said.
Mr. Sullivan declined to say whether charges will be filed against the couple but did say his agency was conducting an "ongoing criminal investigation" of the incident.
Mr. Sullivan said that at no time was Mr. Obama in any danger from the couple, who were being filmed before the event and may be featured in an upcoming Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C."
Also at the hearing, Mr. Sullivan disputed reports that threats against Mr. Obama have increased 400 percent.
"Threats are not up," Mr. Sullivan told Mrs. Norton. "It's the same level it has been for the previous two presidents."
Mrs. Norton was one of several committee members who reminded Mr. Sullivan that the party's guest of honor, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was from a country that suffered a major terrorist attack almost exactly a year ago - the coordinated raid by Islamist gunmen on several Mumbai sites that killed more than 170 people.
In an interview with Gannett newspapers, Mr. Obama himself said that although "the system didn't work the way it was supposed to," the incident does not make him feel unsafe.
"I could not have more confidence in the Secret Service," he said.
Mr. King said that it was customary in the previous two administrations to have White House staff greet visitors near the Secret Service gate at major events and make sure they were on the invitation list and that the lack of checks made it necessary to subpoena Ms. Rogers.
But Mr. Thompson declined, saying the committee's interest was purely to address security issues.
Mr. King argued that the social secretary's office in the past has provided a layer in security by assisting the Secret Service at the gate during public events, in particular at exclusive dinners with heads of state.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that Ms. Rogers would not be testifying before Congress, citing separation of powers claims between the executive and legislative branch.
Mr. King said White House officials "don't have the guts to come down here and testify."
"They would rather hide behind phony claims of separation of powers," Mr. King said.
Mr. Sullivan said it was a joint decision not to have staff from the social secretary's office but could not answer whether it was at the Secret Service or White House's recommendation.
The Secret Service was in sole control of the gate where the Salahis entered. The guest list was checked, and even though their names were not on the list, they were waived inside to a second checkpoint, Mr. Sullivan said. Instead, the officers should have contacted a supervisor who would then check with a White House aide to address the discrepancy.
"None of that happened," Mr. Sullivan said. "Established protocols and procedures were not followed."
The White House on Wednesday said staff will be posted along with security agents at future public events.
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