White House Crashers Met Obama at Dinner

Updated 9:40 p.m. Eastern time

The White House revealed Friday evening that the Virginia couple that crashed a high-profile White House dinner this week met President Obama in a receiving line.

The White House released a photo showing the Salahis in the receiving line in the Blue Room with Mr. Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in whose honor the dinner was held. Mr. Obama and Michaele Salahi are smiling as she grasps his right hand with both of hers as her husband, Tareq, looks on. Singh is standing to the left of Mr. Obama.

The Secret Service earlier this week had said the president was not in danger because the couple - like others at the dinner - had gone through magnetometers. But in light of their close proximity to the president, no such claim was made Friday.

This revelation comes as the head of the Secret Service said Friday that the incident "embarrassed" his agency. In a statement, the agency's director took responsibility for the couple's maneuvering around the people charged with protecting the president by saying "that failing is ours."

"The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the State Dinner," Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Sullivan said in his statement that the agency verified that Michaele and Tareq Salahi were not on the guest list for Mr. Obama's first state dinner Tuesday and that "protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint."

"Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely," Sullivan said. "That failing is ours."

Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said officers at the checkpoint had a clipboard with names of the invited guests. Even though the Salahis names weren't on it, they were allowed to proceed. The officers should have called either someone on the White House staff or Secret Service personnel before allowing them past the checkpoint, Mackin said.

The White House social secretary had no representative at the entrance checking names when the Salahis were waved through.

Mackin told CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller that the agents let the Salahis through the initial checkpoint in the belief their status would be confirmed at the next checkpoint. That was a breach of policy, and the Salahis should not have been permitted past the initial checkpoint, Mackin said.

Guests such as "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric, who attended the event, said security measures they encountered Tuesday night appeared unusually lax.

"I was struck because when I go to the White House to do an interview, the security is much more elaborate to get a temporary press pass, and here it just seemed much more relaxed," Couric told CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.

Mackin told CBS News he could not say if any agents had been suspended because of this breach but he "can't rule that out."

He said he was "unable to say" if the Salahis themselves have been questioned yet by the Secret Service. Instead, he repeated a statement from Sullivan that everyone connected to the case would be interviewed.

Mackin was also unable to say if Mr. Obama had been questioned about his exchange with the Salahis in the receiving line.

The Secret Service may begin a criminal investigation against the couple who crashed the high-profile dinner, an agency spokesman said earlier Friday.

Mackin said the possible turn toward criminal charges is one reason the Secret Service has kept mum about what happened when the Salahis arrived at the security checkpoint Tuesday. They were not on the guest list for the dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Nobody disputes that the two, candidates for a reality TV show, were allowed through security. The Secret Service acknowledges that its procedures weren't followed.

Still unknown is the story that the uninvited guests spun to the security officers that persuaded them to allow the couple through. That likely would play a role in any criminal charges.

"As this moves closer to a criminal investigation there's less that we can say," Mackin said. "I don't want to jeopardize what could be a criminal investigation. We're not leaving any option off the table at this point."

It was not immediately clear what charges would be pursued. The Salahis lawyer, Paul Gardner, posted a comment on their Facebook page saying, "My clients were cleared by the White House, to be there."

He said more information would be forthcoming.

Photos on the couple's Facebook page show they previously had gotten close to Mr. Obama. One photo, apparently taken in the days before Mr. Obama took the oath of office, shows the Salahis in a group shot with Mr. Obama and some of the musicians who performed at an inaugural concert.

Other photos show the Salahis in the empty, glass-enclosed box from which the Obamas watched the concert and, according to the caption, "backstage with the Secret Service at the Lincoln Memorial during the Presidential Inauguration."

Attempts to reach Gardner on Friday were not immediately successful.

Michaele Salahi's hairdresser at the Georgetown salon where she scheduled a last-minute appointment hours before the dinner said she asked to look at the invitation to the White House event, but never saw it.

"She was so excited. She told me that she got it in the mail and it was just an amazing feeling and they couldn't wait and in fact they called the White House, I believe, to make sure that she was going to be dressed appropriately," Peggy Ioakim told "The Early Show" on Friday. Salahi wore a red sari to the dinner.

White House Crashers' "Stunning" Slip

Bravo Media, meanwhile, confirmed that on the day of the dinner Michaele Salahi was being filmed around Washington and while she prepared for the dinner by a film crew connected with the network's reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," because she is being considered for the upcoming TV program.

"Half Yard's cameras were not inside the White House. They filmed the couple preparing for the event," Johanna Fuentes, Bravo Media's vice president, communications, said in an e-mail late Thursday. She said the Salahis "informed Half Yard that they were invited (to the dinner), the producers had no reason to believe otherwise."

Fuentes referred further questions to the Virginia couple's lawyer and their publicist.

The White House refused comment on the Salahis and referred all calls to the Secret Service.

Ronald Kessler, author of a book on the Secret Service, said, "While the couple did pass through a magnetometer to detect weapons, they could have assassinated the president or vice president using other means - anthrax, for example." He added the Secret Service would not detect secreted biological weapons.

Kessler, a journalist, wrote "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect."

The author added that it's unlikely the Secret Service performed the usual background check to ensure that the crashers were not possible threats.

"The party crashers could have had outstanding arrest warrants for murder. They could have been involved with terrorists. They could have been agents of Iran or North Korea. The Secret Service would never have known," he said.

During President George W. Bush's administration, it was standard procedure to have someone from the White House social office at the gate for state dinners and other events with large groups of visitors, according to a former senior Bush aide who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to be seen as criticizing the Obama White House.

The social office is most knowledgeable about the guest list and could have been called in case of any uncertainty, this official said.

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, asked by The Associated Press on Thursday whether personnel from her office were at the checkpoint said, "We were not."

The Salahis are not the first people to crash a notorious party. In 1998, Michael Purfoy crashed music's biggest party of the year, the Grammys, by dancing shirtless with the words "Soy Bomb" scrawled across his chest while Bob Dylan played. And there were no laughs in 2003 when a self-described "comedy terrorist" slipped past security at Windsor Castle and crashed Prince William's 21st birthday celebration. A feature film was even made about crashing parties - 2005's "Wedding Crashers."

Long-time gatecrasher Scott Weiss, who has crashed all kinds of big events and made a documentary about his adventures, told CBS News' Harry Smith, co-anchor of "The Early Show," that he was "shocked" when he heard about the Salahis' slipping past the Secret Service.

"I've often talked about crashing the White House, but I've never been dumb enough to do it."
  • CBSNews

Comments