Suspected Crashers Won't Testify Before Congress - NBC4 Washington

Suspected Crashers Won't Testify Before Congress

Homeland Security Committee holding hearing on state dinner security breach

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    Suspected Crashers Won't Testify Before Congress
    The White House
    If she was wearing pants, we suspect they'd be burning.

    The alleged state dinner crashers' will not testify at a congressional hearing about the incident Thursday.

    Seems the House Committee on Homeland Security made the mistake of inviting the couple to tell their story. Maybe it should have issued a subpoena. Or told them they aren't welcome.

    "Michaele and Tareq Salahi did not violate any laws," read a statement released on their behalf. "Michaele and Tareq Salahi made no misrepresentations to any government officials, including United States Secret Service agents."

    Their decision to not testify brought an immediate threat from a lawmaker to force their appearance under a subpoena.

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    A congressional hearing Thursday aims to determine how Tareq and Michaele Salahi got through White House security.
    (Published Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009)

    "The Salahis' testimony is important to explain how a couple circumvented layers of security at the White House on the evening
    of a state dinner without causing alarm,'' Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chairman, said in a late-evening statement.

    "If the Salahis are absent from tomorrow's hearing, the committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their
    appearance."

    The hearing is looking into how the Salahis were allowed entry into the Obama administration's first state dinner despite not being on the guest list. The couple has repeatedly insisted they were invited to the event.

    "I've served on the Homeland Security Committee since it was formed," D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. "This is the very definition of a material security breach."

    She is concerned about a picture showing President Barack Obama's hand clasped by both of Mrs. Salahi's.

    "The way she was holding the president's hand, I must tell you, as we were ushered through the receiving line, not only was that inappropriate, they whished and made sure people went through as quickly as possible."

    She also wants to know whether the Salahis infiltrated the party just to impress the producers of "The Real Housewives of D.C.," a reality show they're desperate to be cast for. Wouldn't an appearance before Congress be a great audition?

    Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan also is expected to testify Thursday. At a meeting between Secret Service officials and Homeland Security Committee members Wednesday, the Secret Service said the Salahis got into the White House because of a system failure -- human error by one person. The committee said it's not the first time an unauthorized person has tried and succeeded in getting into the White House. The committee wants it to be the last.

    White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers will not testify Thursday, though she had been invited, because no one from her office was at the checkpoint where the Salahis penetrated security.

    White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs cited a separation of powers and a history of White House staffers not testifying before Congress as the reasons Rogers won't testify.

    The committee's top Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, who had requested that Rogers testify, said White House staff members have testified in Congress before. "The White House is creating a needless confrontation and is raising serious issues about its judgment on the night of the state dinner," King said. "I'm strongly, strongly urging the White House to reconsider."

    Copies of e-mails between the Salahis and Pentagon officials Michele Jones, who apparently tried to score an invite for her friends, seem to refute the Salahis' claims that they were invited. In an e-mail hours after they event, they also claimed they didn't receive Jones' voice mail telling them they didn't make the list because of a dead cell phone battery.

    "My cell phone battery died early this evening while we were in D.C. from our country home, so I just got your message now after driving back out. But obviously it worked out at the end.... We ended up going to the gate to check in at 6:30 p.m. to just check, in case it got approved, since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list!"

    So they say.

    Jones replied, "You are most welcome! I here the smile in your e-mail and am delighted that you and Michaele had a wonderful time. :-)"

    The Salahis' representatives said the couple has been in complete cooperation with the Secret Service investigation, meeting with investigators and providing them with e-mails and cell phone records pertaining to the couple's state dinner arrangements. Similar information, including sworn testimony, has been provided to the Homeland Security Committee.

    "On the evening of November 24, 2009, the Salahis presented their United States passports to three different Secret Service Agents at various White House checkpoints," read the statement Wednesday night. "Each of the agents examined the Salahis' passports and compared it to documentation at each checkpoint.  Approximately four days earlier, and at the specific request of a White House official, the Salahis had provided their identifying information, as is required of White House guests. No further inquiries by the Secret Service agents were made at any of the checkpoints."

    The Obama administration will go back to making sure that one of its staff members is present at the gates in the future to help the Secret Service if questions come up, according to Michelle Obama's communication director, Camille Johnston.

    The Salahis could face criminal charges, according to criminal defense attorney Kenneth Robinson.

    "Anyone who by trick or scheme gains entry or makes a statement that's false to  accomplish something to a federal government official in any capacity, in any branch, it's a felony," he said. "One is for trespassing, which can be up to 10 years, and one is for the false statement, which is a five-year penalty."

    Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that a charity polo event and a foundation run by the Salahis have been mired in controversy and financial disarray. Three vendors who served the annual polo cup event, created in 2006, said they hadn't been paid, the newspaper reported. The nonprofit Journey for the Cure, established in 2004, didn't register with Virginia to raise funds until last month, the paper added. Money from the polo event was supposed to benefit the foundation.