Secret Service probing how couple crashed state dinner
Published Thursday, November 26, 2009 11:36AM EST
The Secret Service is trying to get to the bottom of how two uninvited guests made their way to a state dinner at the White House -- an incident that one expert says is emblematic of the agency's corner-cutting ways.
Video showed that Michaele and Tareq Salahi were introduced along with the other guests as they arrived at the party on Tuesday night. Photos posted on Michaele's public Facebook page showed the couple, smiling alongside U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and news anchor Katie Couric.
About 300 people attended the dinner, which was held in honour of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was on a four-day visit to Washington.
"I was honored to be invited to attend the first state dinner hosted by President Obama and the First Lady to honour India," read a message on Michaele's Facebook page, alongside a dozen photos of her and her husband at the dinner.
But Ed Donovan, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, which was responsible for security, said the pair was not on the guest list and the agency is now reviewing how their procedures apparently failed.
The Salahis posed no danger to U.S. President Barack Obama, Donovan said, because they went through the same security screening as the other guests.
The party crashers seemed to be motivated by career aspirations rather than by any political agenda. Michaele is a self-described aspiring television talk-show host who boasts of owning the largest collection of shoes in Washington D.C. The Washington Post, which first reported on the security breach, said the couple may appear on an upcoming Bravo reality TV show titled "Real Housewives of D.C."
But the author of a recent book on the Secret Service said the incident is emblematic of "corner cutting" at the agency.
"It's clear from the Secret Service's comment that the agency not only ignored the fact that the couple was not on the guest list but also did not do the usual background check to ensure that they were not possible threats," Ronald Kessler told CTV.ca in an email.
"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," Kessler said.
It was a media inquiry that brought the problem to the attention of the Secret Service on Wednesday, after the Salahis boasted about attending the dinner online.
Donovan would not say whether the Secret Service had contacted the couple or how long they were on White House property.
But an investigation is underway. One preliminary finding suggested that a checkpoint failed to follow procedures regarding who was on the guest list, Donovan said.
He would not discus whether the couple violated any laws.
With files from The Associated Press