November 30th, 2009
08:30 PM ET
9 years ago

WH: Security screeners failed to ask about dinner crashers


(PHOTO CREDITS: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - - Secret Service security officials at a perimeter checkpoint failed to "get on the phone" to ask about a couple not listed as guests who sought entry to last week's White House state dinner, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

The couple was allowed into the event in a security breach at the first state dinner of President Barack Obama's administration.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi met Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other top White House officials during the dinner held for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The couple was not invited to the event, according to the administration.

Asked repeatedly at his daily briefing about what happened, Gibbs blamed the problem on a lack of communication between the initial screening point and White House organizers.

"If somebody was confused about whether or not somebody was on a list at a guard tower on the perimeter, then why not get on the phone and ask," Gibbs said.

Pressed about the possibility that no one from the White House social office was at the perimeter checkpoint, as reportedly occurred at previous White House dinners, Gibbs said the point is that the Secret Service security crew didn't ask about the couple.

"None of that relay happened between the Secret Service and the social office, whether the social office was at the gate or on the phone in the office," Gibbs said.

Earlier Monday, another administration spokesman said Obama still has "full confidence" in the ability of the Secret Service to protect the first family.

"The president believes that the men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line every day to protect him, his family and many others," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, adding: "He thinks that they do an exceptional job, that they are heroes and they have his full confidence."

An internal investigation into the incident has found that Secret Service agents did not follow protocol at the security checkpoint.

"The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the state dinner on Tuesday," the agency said in a statement last week. "Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely. That failing is ours."

Shapiro and Gibbs both noted that the White House has asked the Secret Service to do a full review of the incident.

The "Secret Service said they made a mistake and they are taking action to identify exactly what happened and they will take the appropriate measures pending the results of their investigation," Shapiro said.

At his later briefing, Gibbs said it would be up to the Secret Service and the U.S. attorney to decide if the Salahis should face criminal charges.

Also Monday, Defense Department official Michele Jones denied in a statement obtained by CNN that she helped try to get the couple on the list for the state dinner.

"I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening's events," Jones said in a prepared statement released by a White House official. "I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

Jones is a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and serves as the Pentagon's liaison to the White House. The Washington Post reported that the Salahis have turned over copies of an e-mail exchange with Jones to Secret Service investigators.

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

–CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Filed under: White House
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    White house legal counsel should file trespassing , breaking and entering , loitering . And if they left the white house with a toothpick ,
    theft !

    Mr. Salahi should place his wife in a helium tinfoil ballon and release her over Colorado ! They both are Spaced out !

    November 30, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  2. Jason

    Screw-ups are not allowed at this level.
    People need to be fired.
    Kudos for the honesty, but there is no room for error at that level.

    November 30, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Curious to know if this type of "breach" has ever happenned before. Also, why weren't these gate-crashers arrested? If only to deter any future "crashers" from pulling off the same stunt. Seems to me that this whole episode is being taken with 'too many grains of salt' under the excuse that no harm came to the President. God forbid, but the next time he may not be so lucky. A very strong message needs to be sent out that this is NOT where you want to cut your teeth in party-crashing, if only to keep the lunatics that are out there Tea Partying from attempting the same.

    November 30, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  4. Tom Bennett

    The couple went through screenings to ensure that they weren't carrying anything that could be used as a weapon. Whats the big deal? All this fuss because they didn't belong there? My tax dollars paid for that banquet, where's my invitation?

    November 30, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  5. Kerzell, CA

    They should be prosecuted. This was no accident and I believe only a test run. Their punishment should show the seriousness of their crime...breaking and entering, lying to the feds, and trespassing. The television crew that was doing the taping should also be charged – how did a film crew for "Housewives of Washington, DC" obtain clearance? Look into that also.

    November 30, 2009 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  6. Sea.gem

    They had drinks...send them a bill...also CNN where is your story on the global warning scientists from the UN that destrroyed all the original data after they changed it then claimed 150 years of documented global warming?...first they prevent any evidence against them from seeing the light of day then they destroy their own evidence...smells bad to me!

    November 30, 2009 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  7. deloris

    This is bad news they could hv been assassins

    November 30, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  8. valwayne

    Every day in Obama's White House is a pre-9/11 day. We no longer have a war on terror, we no longer have to worry about terrorists! At worst we have a few misguided criminals who know know that if they manage to kill 10,000 Americans and survive they'll be read their Miranda rights, eventually get a Circus trial in NY, and spend most of their lives in a federal prison which is probably a lot more comfortable with more amenities than a cave in Afghanistan.

    November 30, 2009 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  9. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    I guess everything is more lax in the White House now: fighting terrorism, keeping nukes out of the hands of madmen, WH security...

    November 30, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  10. JoAnn

    I cannot believe that the security in the White House is so lax that just anyone can get in. Perhaps the policies and procedures should be reinforced with the security staff and if they are not able to understand how important they are maybe they should be employed elsewhere.

    November 30, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  11. Bob in Pa

    When the truth comes out we will find that they were let in. Someone vouched for them or snuck them in. The SS has been doing this stuff for too long to have just screwed up. It won't be long before the cats out of the bag.

    November 30, 2009 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  12. Bill

    Obama knows these people.

    What's the story........

    CNN do your job.

    November 30, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  13. Ex-Repub 'n SC

    How much longer is CNN going to pretend this is a story woth all these "investigations" by Henry. THis morning's 8:00 news had thirty minutes of the "crashers" and Tiger Woods spin and NEVER mentioned four police persons being executed. I think it is time they do some evaluation of their own about their own!

    November 30, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  14. Robin

    Inside job. You can't just get that close to a president without your name being on the list, or someone clearing you.

    November 30, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  15. patrick

    The media is making a big deal about this.

    What is the difference betweeen these people getting in the party and shake the president's hands; and hundreds or thousands of people who attend the president's rally and end up shaking hands with him or patting him on the back or shoulder or giving him a hug?

    In which of these occassions is the president more at risk?

    Let's move on.

    November 30, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  16. Four and The Door

    Why don't they just admit it? They got in because she did such a good job looking like she was from Hollywood. That's the ticket into the Obama White House. Obama and Biden sure didn't look like they were in any hurry to throw her out.

    November 30, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  17. Charlotte

    ...however, we are all very grateful that Sarah Palin was bumped off the headlines at least for a day or two. Come to think of it, these two are far more newsworthy, insofar as a security breach like this could have been very serious, whereas Palin is far from it, in any sense of the word.

    November 30, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  18. proud dem in nc

    More reality show wannabees. If "balloon boy's" parents are charged, than these two wannabees should be charged. Save us from these sleezy reality shows and the nuts that want their 15 minutes of fame.Lock'em up!!!

    November 30, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  19. Obama's security acumen on display

    Why should the White House bother asking if two people are on a party's guest list when they will not ask 30 million illegal immigrants why they are in this country?

    November 30, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  20. Ken in NC

    The Secret Service should be ever so thankful to these people for showing them the weakness in their security net. The man and his wife should be ever so thankful that they do not get more than 5 years in prison for presenting a potential threat to the dignitaries present that night.

    A 5 year term would demonstrate to other potential would be crashers that it is not worth their time to do such a dangerous and stupid stunt.

    November 30, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  21. Susan

    WHY aren't they in JAIL?

    November 30, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  22. nclaw441

    I think this is much ado over not too much. Even though these two slimes were not invited, they WERE screened for weapons, so they were no more likely to harm anyone than were the invited guests. I say leave them to anonymity. The worst that can be done would be to give them more publicity.

    November 30, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  23. snowflake

    If these two people were NOT on the list of guests, and they ended up where they did, and NO ONE knew their names, then HOW could they be announced over the microphone??? Did they simply give their names to someone????? I think this whole fiasco should have a thorough investigation by the FBI!!! Did any one ever think of the word SPY?????? Through the years many spies have been caught only after years of compromising America's security!!!!!

    November 30, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  24. Penny - Canada

    How about sentencing them to a couple of years probation, with GPS monitors on their ankles at all times, and a few hundred hours of community service, say, picking up litter in bright orange coveralls, on the roads near their polo and other clubs, and on the streets where their favourite cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, dressmakers and tailors are located. Now that would give them lots of the high visibility they ccrave!

    November 30, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  25. Mariann Pepitone

    This investigation should continue until all the facts are in and why didn't security make the call to find out if they were on the guest list before letting them enter. They are now called in to Capitol Hill to testify why they crashed the party and if they don't show up they will be subpeoned and a warrant will be issued. They deserve to spend at least 6 months to 1 year in jail for the crashing. She wants to be on a show but she isn't pretty enough for the movies.She is desperate to be noticed by the important people so she can get a contract.

    November 30, 2009 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
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