The director of the U.S. Secret Service said Thursday 'appropriate procedures were not followed' at the White House dinner. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/File)
Washington (CNN) – The director of the U.S. Secret Service acknowledged to a House committee Thursday that "appropriate procedures were not followed" when a Virginia couple not on the guest list entered the White House before a state dinner last week.
Mark Sullivan, testifying at a Homeland Security Committee hearing, said a preliminary investigation into the incident has been completed, and the guards involved have been placed on administrative leave with pay. He said that once the extent of culpability is determined, he would take "appropriate action."
"I regret ... that established protocols and procedure were not followed," Sullivan said, calling the breach that began at the White House entry checkpoint "unacceptable and indefensible."
The couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, contend they were told they could attend the program to honor India's prime minister, but the White House says they were not invited and were not on the official guest list for the exclusive affair - President Barack Obama's first state dinner.
At one point during Thursday's hearing, a staffer raised a poster-sized photo of Michaele Salahi posing with Vice President Joe Biden at the event.
The Salahis were asked to appear before the committee Thursday, but didn't.
"Maybe they didn't show because they were on the guest list," quipped Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona.
Following Sullivan's testimony, committee chairman Bennie Thompson announced that he had asked staff to prepare subpoenas for the couple in an attempt to make them testify.
If they continue to rebuff the oversight request, they could be found in contempt of Congress, the Mississippi Democrat said.
He said the committee would discuss the subpoenas next week.
The panel also invited White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to appear, but Thompson said the White House indicated Wednesday that she wouldn't. Rogers' office planned the dinner.
Thompson said he didn't see a reason for Rogers to testify, because the hearing was focusing on security issues.
"There were undeniable planning and execution failures of the entire Secret Service apparatus," he said Thursday.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, said he supports Thompson's intent to subpoena the Salahis, but he also wanted a subpoena issued for Rogers.
According to Sullivan, the Secret Service guard at the initial checkpoint should have called someone at the White House when he noticed the couple was not on the guest list. Instead, he waved them through. The guest list is prepared by the White House and vetted ahead of time by the Secret Service, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said there were three vehicle checkpoints and two pedestrian ones, and a guest list was at each, meaning the Salahis had to move through several layers of security checks.
"Were they on any of those lists?" Thompson asked.
"They were not," Sullivan replied.
Several committee members asked why someone from Rogers' office wasn't at the first checkpoint to help with oversight, as has happened with events in the past.
Sullivan said those attending a planning meeting before the dinner decided that a single guard at the entry checkpoint would be sufficient.
However, he said it was understood that if that person had a question involving the guest list, the guard would summon someone from the White House staff to settle the issue.
"Why did someone from the Secret Service decide that made sense?" asked Rep. Dan Lungren, R-California, referring to the single guard.
When Sullivan said he didn't know who participated in the planning session, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, demanded a list of everyone who attended.
King wanted to know why the person who oversaw that decision wasn't at the hearing, and he accused the Secret Service of "stonewalling."
"I think it's an affront to our committee because this was a bipartisan request, Mr. Chairman," he said.
Sullivan said he has made or is trying to make improvements at the Secret Service by improving training, retention and recruitment and adding more managerial oversight at White House events.
He said a "resolution help desk" staffed by someone in the uniform division and a senior White House staffer was being set up. The agency has something comparable now, he said, but it is a mobile unit. The new one would be stationary.
Updated: 2:57 p.m.