White House closes gate crashing case

The White House has officially closed the case related to the Salahis – the Virginia couple – who gate crashed into the first State Dinner of the Obama presidency hosted in honour of PM Manmohan Singh, a media report said.

Updated: Dec 21, 2009, 14:41 PM IST

Washington: The White House has officially closed the case related to the Salahis – the Virginia couple – who gate crashed into the first State Dinner of the Obama presidency hosted in honour of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a media report said on Monday.

"Case closed. That`s the verdict the White House has
emphatically handed down on the embarrassing and troubling
security breach a fame-craving Virginia couple performed
during the Obama administration`s first State Dinner on
November 24," The Washington Post reported.

However, the Post said that eyewitness accounts, a
Secret Service criminal investigation, Congressional hearings
and an Obama administration internal review depict a far more
complicated set of circumstances.

Salahis have been subpoenaed by a Congressional
Committee forcing them to appear before it on January 20 to
explain before it the circumstances in which the couple
entered the White House without an invitation.

"A month later, Tareq and Michaele Salahi`s perplexing
White House visit has revealed personnel failings and damage
control manoeuvring in the administration, institutional
vulnerabilities in the security agency, and the perils of
celebrity culture and political gamesmanship in Washington,"
The Post wrote, saying that the entire episode leaves several
questions unanswered for the White House.

The lengthy article – the second part of which would
appear tomorrow – gives a detailed account of how desperate
the Salahis were to get an invite for the event; and then went
on a Lincoln Navigator SUV to a salon for the makeup and saree
fitting session of Michaele Salahi that lasted six hours and
cost the couple USD 230.42.

"I`m just so blessed," she said when Erwin Gomez at
the salon asked her how she managed to get the invite.

According to the driver, who drove the Salahis in that
SUV that day, the couple pretended that they had forgot the
invitation at the home, the Post said.

"My sense was that they had an invitation and left it
at home," driver Mitchell was quoted as saying.

"They felt they were on a guest list and just needed
their two forms of ID to prove who they were," he said.

And, all this while they were also followed by an
entourage of television camera shooting for Bravo Reality
Show. As the limo pulled up to the pedestrian gate of the
White House, a plainclothes Secret Service officer asked
Mitchell for his name.

"I`m not on the list but my guest in the car should
be," Mitchell recalled telling the officer.

He then announced the Salahis as his passengers. As
directed by the Secret Service officer, the Salahis and the
crew got out of the car.

"After some last-minute sartorial and cosmetic touch-
ups, the couple walked toward the entrance and the camera crew
departed in a van that had been following the limo," the daily

Then the Salahis proceeded towards the pedestrian
checkpoint, where one of two officers – a female -- asked for
their IDs. Tareq silently presented their passport.

"The Salahis` stunt spotlighted longstanding tensions
between the Secret Service`s plainclothes agents and uniformed
officers, a management challenge that some agency insiders say
may have played a role in the lapse," the daily said.

The female officers along with two others have been
put on administrative leave.

The couple then walked with other guests to the second
checkpoint about 50 yards away, at the foot of the White House
steps, where, according to committee staffers, two male
officers checked the guests in, the daily said.

According to the Salahi statement, Tareq "again
presented both our passports. The agent examined them, said
`thank you,` and reviewed paperwork that was on a clipboard.
He also appeared to make a checkmark," it said. And then
finally, the Salahis passed through the last checkpoint.

"According to one guest in line, the couple struck up
a conversation with CBS News anchor Katie Couric and boyfriend
Brooks Perlin. Just small talk, according to the guest, but
several members of the committee said they considered the chat
a tactic to ease the Salahis` way through the last filter. The
eyewitness in line said no one at that last screening checked
the Salahis` names against a list," it said.

Once inside the White House, the Salahis name were
announced to the photographer and the awaiting media and then
they walked towards the receiving line of the President and
the Prime Minister.

"In the Blue Room, a tuxedoed official standing next
to the president asked for their official name card, at which
point Tareq presented an America Polo`s Cup business card,
according to Best. The official introduced the couple to
Obama, and they shook the president`s hand," the paper said.

Then they walked downstairs and mingled with rest of
the invited guests. At around 9 p.m. Michael told the staffers
that she had to go as somebody was ill at home and needed a
medical emergency. The couple then walked out and went to a
nearby hotel for drinks.

At 9:08 p.m., a message -- "Honored to be at the White
House for the state dinner in honour of India with President
Obama and our First Lady!" -- popped up on their joint
Facebook account, the paper said.

"They were excited," Mitchell, the driver, was quoted
as saying. "They just had a great night at the White House."

Once back home, the couple uploaded 12 photos of the
State Dinner in the wee hours and at "7:57 a.m., Tareq
responded to a Washington Post reporter`s message sent via
Facebook asking how he got in.

"It was last-minute attending," he wrote.
The White House conceded at 1:12 p.m. that the couple
had not been invited, the daily said.