November 30th, 2009
08:30 PM ET
8 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. Mariann Pepitone

    I understood that criminal charges might be brought against them however, they would have to appear in court before a judge. They are liars and trespassers and it is understood they talked to an unknown person who knows about crashing parties. Apparently he told them what to say at the gate.

    November 30, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  2. Dee

    Amazing how slothful this was. Did anyone understand the importance of protecting the President regardless of a blonde in a red sari?
    Was this couple ever confronted? When a reporter told two staff members the couple were not on the list what did they do?
    Arrest the crashers, someone with a real badge and get the tape from Bravo- see what they knew also.

    November 30, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  3. once upon a horse

    no matter how you feel about President Obama, and I have read some things that right wingers have said even blaming HIM for it saying he's just seeking attention, you can NOT just have anyone having access to the POTUS like that. This shoud not be a right/left issue this is a security issue even if these jokers were just seeking attention you have plenty of haters and nutjobs out there who would have LOVED to be able to crash a party and get that close to the president. We already have nutjobs carrying guns to when Obama speaks and nothing is being done about it....we are asking for trouble.

    November 30, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  4. Mrs. Shankel

    I want to see them prosecuted to the full extent of the law and nationally shamed as not worthy of a show or any paid interviews that they are seeking.

    Of course the SS should fire those that didn't do their job too.

    Just do it with no fan fare and move on. What an unpatriotic and upstaging mess to happen while we had honored guests for that first State Dinner of this presidency.

    They should apologize while wearing little orange jump suits and not wearing makeup or jewelry to The People of India for trying to upstage our National honored guest the Prime Minster of India.

    November 30, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  5. bill

    I agree with Thomas. I will sleep better when these people are in jail. I'm disgusted by them.

    November 30, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  6. Rusty

    Looks like another case of being to complasent!! Thinking we are safe and letting our guard down. We learned nothing from 9/11 and I'm not so sure this was just an oversight!! Was this a mistake or was it just like not thinking the plane highjackers were bent on doing something horrible, so much for Homeland Security!! There is NONE!!!! They should be locked up and the key thrown away!!

    November 30, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  7. D.

    I love these people who have pity on terrorists and give them a civilian court trial and blame the US for all wrong doing, but will demand very harsh treatment to people who somewhat do act that by some (not even correctly) show how ridiculous their beloved half-god-half-president!

    November 30, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  8. notsurprised

    it's all a ploy to distract from the socialist sending more troops to fight. he's trying to fly under the radar from the loon leftist.

    November 30, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  9. Pat

    What someone else asked and what I would like to know is: how did photos turn up right away of this event? Who took the photos of the crashers? How did they get them so fast?

    November 30, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  10. Jazzy

    I hope Secret Service and every White House department learned from this. I also hope the couple and anyone else involved in this are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    November 30, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  11. t

    The way in which the country works, these people are going to become millionaires

    November 30, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  12. mjm

    This doesn't add up. They were let in, passed through security, announced......fed.

    They didn't exactly sneak in a back door. Someone invited them. This Jones seems like a liar. They have emails, huh? Can’t wait to get the real story.

    Anyway, you can't blame the couple that the White House is easier to get into then a NY night club.

    November 30, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  13. Better to be illegals

    This couple would be better off as illegal aliens that "want to be" reality TV actors. Illegals trespass on our country, climb fences, tear down barriers, forge documents, take civil services without paying taxes.... and nobody in this current administration is up in arms about the situation.

    They walked up, dressed as though they should be there, informed the security as who they were, may have stated that they were invited.... and the security officer let them in !

    How is that breaking and entering or loitering. Maybe trespassing, but that's a misdemeanor. Just like illegally cross the border and nothing is done about that and nothing should be done about this.

    Last word, all this "they could have been terrorists" bullcrap is just that, bullcrap.

    November 30, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  14. johnnyfresno

    they got in because she is a beautiful blue eyed blonde female. they can get away with anything.

    November 30, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  15. Elizabeth

    I whole heartedly agee with Thomas' comments!

    November 30, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  16. aware

    Inefficiency is the name of the Obama game! 😦

    November 30, 2009 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  17. James, AL

    This is a VERY serious offense and this couple should not get away with a slap on the risk. The attorney general should throw the book at them and put them in federal prison for a long time. Otherwise, this will be the tip of the iceberg for gloryseekers and haters.

    November 30, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  18. A.B.

    This situation is extremely serious given the 400 or more death threats against President Obama's life. The members of the Secret Service who are responsible for letting those uninvited people into the White House should be held accountable for this mistake by resigning their positions or they should be summarily fired for negligence. The Secret Service is charged with the primary duty of protecting the President of the United States from any and all threats. There is no room for this egregious mistake. The Salahis should be prosecuted if it determined that they lied to federal officials to gain access to the White House and trespassed onto the premises.

    November 30, 2009 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  19. Mike

    Let Congress sort this mess out. I like watching the inept in action. This will probably take longer than healthcare, delaying any action on jobs for another year or two.

    November 30, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  20. Joe R.

    Prosecute to the fullest extent of the law to make sure no one else tries to pull a similar stunt. This couple is in financial trouble with lawsuits, and yet they have the nerve to act like they deserve to be there?

    November 30, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  21. Susan in NC

    This couple should be answering questions from a jail cell! Speaking before Congress only gives them more publicity - just what they wanted. And, what's Congress gonna do anyway? They've got more important things to worry about and work on. Arrest the couple for Trespassing and anything else that applies, just like anyone who climbed the fence onto White House grounds or some such. They should be in jail!

    November 30, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  22. pat

    hope that it does not occur again

    November 30, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  23. Pedro Penduko

    Why hasn't there been done any tangible action done yet by the SS? Its been a week and there is no word on what is to be done to these people. A statement, a charge, or a citation, nothing! How long does it take to get to the bottom of an incident like this? I understand that you cannot charge someone for what "they might might have done" but misrepresenting yourself and lying to federal employees is a crime. If a person committed a crime, DUI for example, or shoplifting, don't they typically get charged, go to jail, get bailed out, and go to trial? How come the only thing this couple is doing is lining up for paid interviews and reality tv shows?

    November 30, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  24. Mike in Indiana

    If Bravo doesn't hire them the GAO should.
    The Salahi's should be rewarded both for finding a security breach and for entertaining the whole nation.

    November 30, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  25. T'SAH from Virginia

    THEY did not ASK and THEY did not TELL until they were BUSTED!!!

    This was dangerous and could happen again!!! Our President and Vice President was in DANGER and it could have been worst.

    POISON could have been in THAT WOMAN'S hand when she placed it our President's and that is SCARY!!

    That COUPLE should go to JAIL – GO directly to JAIL – DO NOT PASS GO – DO NOT COLLECT $200.... Because that is all what it was about $$$$$$!!!

    November 30, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
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