December 3rd, 2009
02:57 PM ET
9 years ago

Secret Service chief: Breach was indefensible


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.

Filed under: Homeland Security • Popular Posts • White House
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. appropriate procedures were not followed

    ya think?

    I think I should be the head of secret service, I can do the job that they are doing

    December 3, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  2. gary davis Harbor Oregon proud american

    lets move on about the two idiots , either put them in jail or let it go . they are getting free press and the media is all over it . like a swarm of flies on poop . and that is what this couple looks like poop.. 🙂

    December 3, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. Enough

    Ya think? What a bunch of Morons, can't even do a simple job like check off a guest list.

    December 3, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. TCM's been proven that Desiree Rodgers, an Obama friend and recipient of undeserving position and favor is to blame. I wish the liberal media would get it right.

    December 3, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Tell us something we don't know. While you're at it, tell us what's going to be done to the crashers. Are they going to be allowed to go on TV talk-shows, and cash in on their little adventure? Or will they be treated the same way ANY OTHER intruder would be treated if they breached the security of the most important residence in the USA? Let me be more clear: if they'd been curious derelicts that snuck into the WH would all this tippy-toeing, and "invitation" to testify be going on, or would the derelicts be handled any differently. I mean come on, what's with the 'white glove' treatment???

    December 3, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  6. Guest5000

    I wonder what role the Desiree Rodgers, Mr. & Mrs. Obama's friend and the white house social secetary's role/failure is in this. Apparently she or her staff were not in place where they were supposed to be – checking names/people off the list as they arrived. The social secretary entered the party herself instead, we saw it in the news, instead of working ...
    Who trained Ms. Rodgers and her staff. If you put your friend in a postition she is not qualified for, maybe there is an issue. Maybe she is over her head.

    December 3, 2009 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  7. mytabloids

    Fire someone. Do it now. Make me believe that Obama is, on some level, different than Bush....

    December 3, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  8. AXH

    What a joke this is!! Obama can't even keep his own house safe do you really think he's keeping yours safe??

    I think NOT...the SS is falling on the JOB!

    December 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. wylie

    Either there is indeed an official list of invited guests or there is not. Why are there still lingering questions as to whether they were indeed invited or trespassers??? A quick check of such a list should determine this. It sounds like if you just show up at the White House gate, nicely dressed and with a good BS line, you'll get in. The President's safety aside, If I was the Prime Minister of India, I'd be pretty PO'd that my security was taken so lightly that uninvited guests could get into the same room as me.

    December 3, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  10. Dixon

    The Secret Service is the best at what they do. They will fix it.

    December 3, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  11. C Spurgeon

    I don't think that Obama should throw secret service under bus to protect close friend Social Sec. His close Chicago friends are not helping him govern the country....Social Secretary does not have executive protecion and the jarrett friend didn't help him in the Olympics fiasco..Cmon guys this is like tryout night at the funny farm. Gibbs needs to talk less and answer questions directly or not at all.

    December 3, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  12. Gary

    I'm glad the Secret Service acknowledged the error on their part and will make the changes to prevent somehing like this from happening again. It seems that the two social wanna-be's who evidently spend a lot more money than what they make will be attending another "social gathering" at one of the Senate office buildings.....

    December 3, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  13. Independant Vet

    So that is only part of the many goof up's that have ocurred.

    How many have not been reported ?

    Check there Twitter !!!

    December 3, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  14. southerncousin

    That is pretty neat huh, a devoted Secret Service taking the hit and covering for BFF of Michele who run the social office. The Obama administration is so incompetent.

    December 3, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  15. walleye

    Now that they have admitted fault, its time for heads to roll so this does not happen again. Lets not waste time with congressional hearings. The couple that crashed the party should spend time in jail.

    December 3, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  16. Stacie

    I am pleased to see someone take responsibility for mistakes made. That is the only way to learn from them and get better.

    December 3, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  17. Dar

    ERRED, you let two people walk in and even shake hands with the standing president of the united states...........................ERRED

    IM dumbfounded by this, I dont like Obama but I dont want him or his family hurt either, he is our president and should be protected at all costs.

    The ball was dropped and someone or many who are at fault should be let go.There are plenty of security guard jobs out there so when they screw up again it will only cost them their life maybe, not our president.

    December 3, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. HERB

    Give them jail time. It's unacceptable to play or test the secret service or the white house. The world is watching ,and our enemies are learning so let send a message to all who are watching that this is not a political message or party line message .we will act accordingly if you are found trespassing around any city ,state federal activities being party crasher or violating Government materials is punishable with a jail time .jail them.

    December 3, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  19. dave

    There is only one question remaining:

    When are Tareq and Michaele Salahi going to be arrested and charged with some sort of criminal offense?

    December 3, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. Robert J 1

    Whats the big deal? Doesn't anyone remember the now jailed DC lobbyist who had his picture taken with Bush in the Whitehouse? Talk about crashing a party!

    December 3, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |