Three uniformed division officers with the Secret Service have been placed on administrative leave in the wake of the security breach at the White House involving a Northern Virginia couple gaining unauthorized access to the White House State dinner.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told Congress Thursday the officers are on leave with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation into the breach. Sullivan said the investigation is ongoing, and there may be others identified as having a role in the incident.
Sullivan asserted that the security breach at last week's state dinner was an aberration and President Barack Obama was never at risk.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, said the country is fortunate the affair in honor of visitiing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not end in a "night of horror."
Appearing before Thompson's panel for questioning, Sullivan acknowledge mistakes were made and that the Secret Service must have a "100 percent" performance record.
Thompson said that lawmakers need to talk not only to Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple which was admitted to the dinner without showing invitations, but also to White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. All three have declined to appear.
Thompson, D-Miss., had said Wednesday night that if the Salahis didn't show up, the panel was prepared to move forward with subpoenas "to compel their appearance."
Rep. Peter King of New York, ranking Republican on the committee, accused the White House of "stonewalling" in not permitting Rogers to appear. He told Thompson he would favor subpoenaing not only the Salahis but Rogers as well. An aide for Thompson said this morning that no decisions have been made on whether to subpoena Rogers, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson.
Last week's White House gate caper has captivated a capital where high-end social life and celebrity eruptions frequently enliven the day-to-day business of governing. The Secret Service is investigating. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are described as angry.
Thompson said: "This hearing is not about crashing a party at the White House. Nor is it about wannabe celebrities." He said the purpose is to better protect the president.
"We're not concerned about agency embarrassment," he said. "The security gaps at issue cannot be explained away as missteps by a few frontline employees. There were undeniable planning and execution failures of the entire Secret Service apparatus," Thompson said. "We're all fortunate that this diplomatic celebration did not become a night of horror.... We must dissect every fact ... and after we do these things, we need to give thanks that no lives were lost."
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told the panel that "in our judgment, a mistake was made. In our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake."
Sullivan, who had previously acknowledged a failure in procedure by his agency, was the lone witness at Thursday's hearing. "I fully acknowledge that the proper procedures were not followed ... This flaw has not changed our agency's standard, which is to be right 100 percent of the time," he said.
He said that "as an agency, we will continue to remain our harshest critic."
Asked whether there was a risk posed to people attending the dinner, Sullivan said he was confident there wasn't. He said there was no threat to Obama, noting that "last week we took him to a basketball game, and there was 5,000 people sitting around the president."
Defending the decision not to let Rogers testify, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs cited the separation of powers and a history of White House staff not testifying before Congress, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante. Gibbs also said the first family is "quite pleased" with Rogers' performance.
In the past, at state dinners and similar events, a member of the White House social office or other White House staff stood with the Secret Service as guests entered. No one from the White House was with the Secret Service on Nov. 24. There were no plans for a White House staff member to be there, and it was the Secret Service's responsibility to make sure the guests were on the approved list.
The Salahis believe "there is nothing further that they can do to assist Congress in its inquiry regarding White House protocol and certain security procedures," their publicist, Mahogany Jones, said in a statement. "They therefore respectfully decline to testify."
The Salahis have been trying to land a part on a Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," and were filmed by the Bravo show around town as they prepared for the White House dinner. The couple has been accused of "crashing" other events, including an event in which Michaele Salahi allegedly pretended to be a former Redskins cheerleader.
The White House has announced new guest procedures in the wake of the security breach.
"After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina wrote in a memo Wednesday to the staff about the new procedures.