Published November 30, 2009
The couple who slipped into a White House dinner without an invitation denied Tuesday that they were gate-crashers.
Appearing on a nationally broadcast morning news show with his wife, Michaele, Tareq Salahi said the furor surrounding their attendance at the state dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister has been a "most devastating" experience.
Salahi said in the interview Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show that there was more to the story -- an explanation that would exonerate the couple from allegations of misconduct in the breach of White House security. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, appearing on the same program, stood by the administration's position that the Salahis were gate-crashers.
"We're greatly saddened by all the circumstances...portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you we did not party-crash the White House," Tareq Salahi told the network.
"We were invited, not crashers, and there isn't anyone who would have the audicity or the poor behavior to do that," added Michaele. "No one would do that, and certainly not us."
Gibbs has expressed confidence in the Secret Service's probe of the party crashers but otherwise refused to delve into the security lapses, saying he will "let the investigation put the onus on where the onus should be."
"The president has faith in the Secret Service," Gibbs told reporters Monday, adding that there was no "relay" between agency and White House social office on Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia couple who slipped into last week's state dinner even though they were not invited.
But Gibbs declined to elaborate on how, exactly, the White House social office allowed unknowns to pass through the gates and enter the dinner, where they managed to meet President Obama in the receiving line and snap photos with Vice President Biden and Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
"I think the Secret Service, through the director, has admitted that somebody who wasn't on a list and wasn't waved in was allowed into an event that clearly, he said, shouldn't be, and that no call or reach-out ever came to anybody in terms of staff from the Secret Service about whether or not there was confusion on a name on a list," he said.
Cathy Hargraves, who until June had been in charge of supervising guests lists for state dinners, told Newsweek magazine that she was told by Obama Social Secretary Desiree Rogers in February that she wasn't needed to serve as official greeter and name checker because "in these economic times, I don't think we're going to have very many lavish expensive dinners. It wouldn't look very good."
When pressed on whether the relay failed to occur because staff from the social office was not at the gate, Gibbs said, "The answer continues to be, the relay didn't happen because somebody was or wasn't there."
"There's an investigation that's ongoing into the actions of what happened, and I'm going to wait for that to be completed," he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Pete King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee formally requested that Rogers be the "Republican" witness at Thursday's hearing.
A representative for the Salahis, meanwhile, is denying claims that the couple demanded handsome compensation for the chance to tell their story on television networks.
Mahogany Jones, a representative for the couple, said in an e-mail to FoxNews.com Monday that, "The Salahis are not 'shopping' any interviews or demanding money from any media networks to tell their story."
"We refute these false allegations and demand that this adverse, in accurate information cease immediately," wrote Jones. "At this time, the Salahis are not making any formal comments and are not making any arrangements to speak with press/media."
A television executive told The Associated Press over the weekend that the Salahis had contacted news networks asking for a payment in the mid-six figures range in exchange for an interview. The executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the couple urged media outlets to "get their bids in."
CNN confirmed that the Salahis had canceled an appearance they had scheduled for "Larry King Live" on Monday.
Network news divisions say they don't pay for interviews. But for eagerly sought interviews in the past, they have offered to pay for access to exclusive material, such as pictures or videos from their subjects.
The Secret Service acknowledged its officers never checked whether the couple were on the guest list before letting them onto the White House grounds. But it insisted Obama was never endangered by the security breach because the couple -- like others at the dinner -- had gone through magnetometers.
Gibbs also told reporters Monday that he hasn't discussed with Obama the possibility of pursuing charges against the couple.
"I have not talked to the president on that," he said. "The reason there's an investigation is the president and the White House has asked for that to happen. So I think suffice to say the president is rightly concerned about what happened last week."
A White House photo shows the Salahis in the receiving line in the Blue Room with Obama and Singh. Obama and Michaele Salahi are smiling as she grasps his right hand with both of hers and her husband looks on. Singh is to Obama's left.
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security committee is calling the Secret Service director and the Salahis to testify on the incident Thursday.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he wants answers about the agency's security deficiencies that allowed the couple into the dinner even though they were not on the guest list. Thompson says now is a time for answers and not political games or scapegoat.
Some lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be brought against the couple, but the Secret Service has yet to do so. The Secret Service could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.