White House gate crashers boycott Congress invite
Dec 3, 2009, 20:40 GMT
Washington - The gate crashers to a White House state dinner snubbed a real invitation on Thursday to a different centre of power in the nation's capital: Congress.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi, would-be reality TV stars, declined to show up at a House of Representatives hearing, where last week's security breach that allowed them into the hallowed centre of American might was under scrutiny.
The Homeland Security Committee had asked them to testify, as well as White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, whose role in the affair has also been questioned.
But none of them showed up, inviting the prospect of an official subpoena to testify on Capitol Hill.
That left the lone head of the US Secret Service that protects the president, Mark Sullivan, to take the stand, and he repeated his past acceptance for an error in judgement, 'a mistake,' that allowed the Salahis to slip by the normally heavy security.
'Established procedures related to entering the White House ... were not followed,' Sullivan said. 'Their entry into the White House is unacceptable and indefensible.'
Most importantly on legislators' minds were reports that threats against President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American leader, have risen since he took office in January, reportedly up 400 per cent.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, an African-American representative from the District of Columbia, cast a severe look at Sullivan, her voice choked with emotion.
'Given the death threats to this president, was there any attempt to increase security?' she asked Sullivan.
But Sullivan remained cool, dismissing any suggestion that the threat level is up.
'The threat is not up 400 per cent. Threats are not up. Threats are at the same level as it has been for the previous two presidents,' Sullivan said.
The White House said it would probably not allow Rogers to testify under executive privilege extended to White House staff. Opposition Republican legislators, who say the social secretary or her aides should have been at the entrance with the Secret Service to check off names, want to force her to testify with a subpoena.
Democrats on the panel disagreed, saying they would only consider a subpoena for the Salahis, The Washington Post reported.
Sullivan said the Salahis had been screened by a metal detector and posed no threat to Obama. A photo released by the White House showed Michaele Salahi laughing into Obama's face and holding his hand with both of hers on the formal reception line.
The Salahis, who insist they thought they were invited after having some contact with a Pentagon liaison to the White House, are ambitious to appear on a new reality show about Washington housewives.
The couple had a vineyard in Virginia that has since closed during a family dispute over ownership. They have also started a polo organization to raise money for charity, but reportedly have left behind a trail of unpaid creditors.
The Salahis have collected photos with high-profile people, including one from last week with Vice President Joe Biden in which Michaele leans against him with her hand on his lapel.