Tareq Salahi Says He and Wife Didn’t Crash Dinner (Update2)http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aZw5xRuzeqoY
By Jeff Bliss and Roger Runningen
Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Tareq Salahi, who with his wife is accused of attending last week’s White House state dinner without an invitation, said today he didn’t “party-crash.”
“This has been the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to us,” Salahi said on NBC’s “Today” program. “We’re greatly saddened by” the media reports “portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you we did not party- crash the White House.”
Salahi was interviewed together with his wife, Michaele, who said, “Our lives have been destroyed.”
The Salahis attended the Nov. 24 event, which honored Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, although they weren’t on the official guest list. Their attendance has spurred a Secret Service investigation into how they slipped past security amid concern over the president’s safety.
The couple exchanged e-mails with a Defense Department official, an acquaintance of the couple’s lawyer, before the dinner about getting tickets to the event, the Washington Post reported yesterday, citing unidentified sources familiar with the Secret Service investigation.
Michele Jones, special assistant to the secretary of defense, said she told the couple in the e-mails that she didn’t have tickets to offer them for the event and couldn’t grant them access.
“I did not state at any time, or imply, that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening’s events,” Jones said in a statement released by the White House last night.
‘Decided to Come’
The Post, citing the anonymous sources, said the e-mails encouraged the Salahis, who live in a Virginia suburb of Washington, to come to the White House on the night of the dinner. In her statement, Jones denied making that suggestion.
“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,” she said. “Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come.”
Salahi said he would disclose “in the next several days” e-mails that would make clear they were invited.
“I am certain we’re going to be completely exonerated,” he said.
Authorities are considering criminal charges against the couple, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, appearing on the “Today” show this morning.
This isn’t the first time the Salahis’ attendance at an event has been questioned.
The couple was escorted by security from an annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Inc. fund-raising dinner on Sept. 26, said Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based non-profit group.
“They did not have tickets for the table where they were sitting,” she said.
The Salahis were seated at a “gold” table, which cost $20,000 for the 10 seats, Cooper said.
The group is investigating whether the Salahis were supposed to be seated at another table, she said.
“Right now, we cannot find anything that says they were guests,” she said.
The Salahis on the “Today” show said they were invited to the Sept. 26 dinner and weren’t removed by security.
“It’s another gossip, rumor” that’s not true, Tareq Salahi said.
The Salahis received an invitation yesterday from the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee to testify at a Dec. 3 hearing about how they slipped past White House security.
The House panel also asked Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to testify, according to a press release from the committee. Malcolm Wiley, a Secret Service spokesman, said that Sullivan would testify if asked.
White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers also has been invited to testify, said Dena Graziano, spokeswoman for Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee.
Sullivan on Nov. 27 said the security breach “deeply concerned and embarrassed” the agency. Agents failed to follow procedures that should have prevented the man and woman from crashing the event, he said.
‘Time for Answers’
Thompson, in a statement, said, “This is a time for answers, recognition of security deficiencies past and present, and remedies to ensure the strength of the Secret Service and the safety of those under its protection.”
Graziano said the hearing will focus on other security breaches, such as concerns expressed by top campaign donors to President Barack Obama about potential lapses during his inauguration on Jan. 20.
The panel “is not going to look at this one isolated incident,” she said, referring to the state dinner.
Gibbs told “Today” the Salahis knew they weren’t invited to the state dinner.
“This wasn’t a misunderstanding,” he said. “You don’t show up at the White House as a misunderstanding.”
Michaele Salahi is being considered for a role in “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” a reality TV show on Bravo, said Cameron Blanchard, an NBC spokeswoman. Bravo and NBC are owned by General Electric Co.
“The Salahis informed Half Yard,” producers of the series, “that they were invited as guests to the state dinner,” Blanchard said. The production company was “filming the Salahis’ preparation for the event.”
A statement from the couple’s publicity agent denied reports that the Salahis were trying to sell an interview about their experience to the highest bidder.
“We refute these false allegations,” said Mahogany Jones, the press agent. “The Salahis are not ‘shopping’ any interviews or demanding money from any media networks to tell their story.”
A photo released by the White House on Nov. 27 showed Obama shaking hands with Michaele Salahi in the receiving line with her husband and Singh on either side.
Michaele Salahi posted photos on her Facebook page of the couple posing at the event with Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as other guests.
It was the first state dinner of Obama’s presidency, and more than 300 people were invited.
The couple’s attorney in Baltimore, Paul Gardner, has said they were approved to enter the White House. Gardner didn’t return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.