White House Crashers Break Silence

A man who made his way uninvited into a White House state dinner is denying that he and his wife are gate-crashers.

In his first nationally broadcast interview since the incident, Tareq Salahi told NBC's "Today" show that the whole experience has been "the most devastating thing that has ever happened" to he and his wife, Michaele.

Salahi said flatly that the couple "did not party-crash the White House." He said the pair is cooperating with the Secret Service and they have "great respect" for President Barack Obama. Salahi told interviewer Matt Lauer he's confident "the truth will come out." about the circumstances surrounding his and his wife's attendance at the state dinner for the visiting prime minister of India.

Despite reports that the couple was seeking payment to be interviewed, an NBC spokeswoman insisted, "No money changed hands."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told CBS' "The Early Show", "This White House will do anything that needs to happen to ensure that both the president and his family are safe and secure."

On MSNBC, Gibbs was more forceful, saying both President Obama and his wife, Michelle, were angry that two univited people were able to get into a state dinner at the White House.

Gibbs said "it's safe to say he was angry. Michelle was angry." Gibbs noted the Secret Service is investigating and said the White House is re-examining its procedures. He told the network, "I think the president really had the same reaction the Secret Service had, and that was great concern for how something like this happened."

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."

Michaele Salahi described the couple as "shocked and devastated" when they saw accounts of the incident the following morning.

Asked if they had been mischaracterized in the media, Tareq Salahi said, "No question ... It's been devastating what's happened to Michaele and I ... Our lives have really been destroyed."

"Everything we've worked for," Michaele Talahi told interviewer Matt Lauer.

"We were invited, not crashers, and there isn't anyone who would have the audicity or the poor behavior to do that," she said. "No one would do that, and certainly not us."

Tareq Salahi said that the couple has been "very candid" with the Secret Service and said "we have turned over documentation to them."

"We're going to definitely work with the Secret Service between Micahele and I to really shed light on this," Tareq Salahi said. He indicated the couple had e-mails that would reinforce their position that they did not go uninvited to the dinner.

The couple also said they had not discussed accepting money from any party or organization, including NBC, for telling their story.

"I am certain we will be completely exonerated," he said.

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 Mr. 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.
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