WASHINGTON — The couple who crashed the Obama administration's first state dinner communicated with a senior Pentagon official about going to the event, but the official denies that she helped the couple get in.
Michele Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said in a written statement issued through the White House on Monday evening that she never said or implied she would get Michaele and Tareq Salahi into the Nov. 24 White House dinner.
"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," Jones said. "Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."
This is the latest twist in the unfolding mystery of how the two reality show wannabes managed to get into the highly secured event and shake hands with President Barack Obama. Also on Monday, a House committee chairman asked the couple, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to testify at a hearing Thursday on the incident.
WTTG-TV, the Fox affiliate in Washington, reported late Monday that the Salahis also crashed a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards dinner on Sept. 26 at which Obama spoke. The station's Web site quoted a foundation representative, Lance Jones, as saying the Salahis were escorted out by security guards after they were caught sitting at a table.
The station said that when the Salahis showed up at the dinner, they were followed by TV cameras from Bravo, which airs the "Real Housewives" reality programs, but were turned away at the door. WTTG reported that the Salahis later sneaked in through a busboy-catering entrance, and the station's Web site posted photos purported to be from the Black Caucus event.
Most the attendees at the event did not have access to Obama, WTTG reported.
A call to the Secret Service seeking comment was not immediately returned late Monday.
The White House issued Michele Jones' statement after questions were raised about communications between the administration and the couple prior to the state dinner. The White House did not provide details about Jones' relationship with the couple. Jones spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver on Obama's behalf, and is currently a Pentagon-based liaison with the White House.
A friend of the couple, McLean, Va., real estate agent Casey Margenau, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the couple interpreted an e-mail exchange as permission to attend the exclusive White House event. Margenau said he did not personally see the e-mails and did not know with whom the couple was corresponding.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wants answers about the Secret Service's security deficiencies that allowed the Salahis to attend the White House dinner. A White House photo showed the Salahis in the receiving line in the Blue Room with Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in whose honor the dinner was held. Obama and Michaele Salahi are smiling as she grasps his right hand with both of hers and her husband looks on. Singh is to Obama's left.
"This is a time for answers," Thompson said in a statement Monday. "This is not the time for political games or scapegoating to distract our attention from the careful oversight we must apply to the Secret Service and its mission."
Some lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be brought against the couple, but the Secret Service has not yet decided whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution.
The Secret Service declined to comment on whether Sullivan would testify Thursday.
On Friday, Sullivan issued a statement saying that his agency is "deeply concerned and embarrassed" by the circumstances surrounding the White House dinner.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the couple was not on the approved list for the party, but they were allowed in. "This should not have occurred," he said.
"The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list," Sullivan said Friday. "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."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday the president shares the Secret Service director's concern about the incident.
"That's why there's an investigation," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the president was not concerned about his safety and continues to have faith in the Secret Service.
The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, also said there needs to be an investigation into what happened. King said he wants to be sure the hearing does not give away Secret Service operations or methods that could tip someone off how to get into the White House. King said he's been to at least 40 invitation-only events at the White House – including two state dinners – and security has always been tight and thorough.
The Salahis have boasted about going to the state dinner on their Facebook page: "Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!" they wrote.
Michaele Salahi is a reality TV hopeful trying to get on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C."
The couple's publicist, Mahogany Jones, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether the Salahis would testify Thursday. But earlier Monday, Mahogany Jones said allegations that the Salahis are shopping interviews and demanding money from television networks to tell their story are false.
NBC said Monday that the Salahis will be interviewed Tuesday by "Today" host Matt Lauer. The interview is scheduled to air in the 7 a.m. half-hour segment.
An appearance previously scheduled for Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" has been canceled.
A TV executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to publicly discuss bookings had told The Associated Press that the couple's representatives had urged networks to "get their bids in" for an interview.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.