WASHINGTON -- The attention-hungry couple that crashed the Obama administration's first state dinner admitted to a friendly Pentagon official that they went without a confirmed invitation -- just in case they got approved at the last minute.
Tareq and Michaele Salahi claimed a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing a voicemail earlier that day advising them they did not make the guest list.
The Salahis gave that account in an e-mail sent just hours after last week's dinner to Pentagon official Michele Jones, who had tried to get them invited. A collection of e-mails between the Salahis and Jones was obtained Tuesday night by The Associated Press from a source who got them in manner that confirmed their authenticity.
The Salahis wrote that they drove to the White House at 6:30 p.m. "to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list!" The Secret Service has said they weren't on that list and that it erred by letting them in anyway.
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. Congress also is about to hold a hearing. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are described as angry. And the Salahis asked a national television audience to take their word that the e-mail exchange would show that they were invited to the dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister.
Earlier Tuesday evening, the administration said it will make at least one change to its practices for invitation-only events: The White House social office will go back to making sure that one of its staff members will be present at the gates to help the Secret Service if questions come up, the first lady's communication director, Camille Johnston, said.
Johnston maintained that this has been an existing policy, but the White House and Secret Service have said that no such person was present last week as guests arrived for the dinner. Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the plan for the dinner did not call for a social office employee to be at the gate, but that agents also didn't call the office to ask for assistance or clarification.
The e-mails between the Salahis and Jones show the couple contacted Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a Pentagon-based White House liaison, who spent four days trying to get them the invitation they vigorously sought. Jones e-mailed that she would try to get them access to part of the state dinner and asked for their Social Security numbers and other data needed to obtain clearance.
An administration official said Tuesday night that Jones had her deputy e-mail the Salahis information to the White House Office of Public Engagement.
The day before the state dinner, Jones e-mailed Salahi that she was still trying, "but it doesn't seem likely." Salahi replied with a list of people he said were invited to the dinner but unable to make it, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his wife. Salahi told Jones the Reids went home for Thanksgiving. Jones replied, "This will help also! invited to the dinner.
"One thing is clear, on the night of the state dinner incident the Secret Service was responsible for checking the names on the guest list," Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. "That was the plan. ... We have acknowledged our mistake in letting two individuals who were not on the guest list into the White House."
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is expected to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee about the incident on Thursday. The Salahis and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers have also been invited to testify.
Earlier this year, the Salahis attended a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner -- and questions have arisen about whether they were invited to that affair.
Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for foundation, said the Salahis were escorted out of the Sept. 26 dinner. She said the couple was sitting at a $20,000-per-table section at the event where Obama was the keynote speaker. When other guests complained that someone was in their seats, the Salahis were asked to show their tickets. They were asked to leave when they couldn't produce them.
"They didn't argue," Cooper said. "They just looked a little sheepish and were escorted out."
Tareq Salahi told "Today" they were invited to that party as well and denied being escorted out.