When I had the privilege of serving 14 months at the White House between 1996 and 1998, I got to know most of the Secret Service agents who worked there. I used to enjoy some time with them early each morning, when I regularly entered the White House complex through the northwest gate guardhouse, where I would spend a few minutes chatting with agents while sipping a cup of coffee.
At one point, I remember thinking that these nice men and women are in a job that trains them, above all, to be ready for one horrifying, unthinkable moment: to, God forbid, throw their bodies in front of a firing gunman and, thus, if necessary, give up their lives to save the life of a president of the United States and his family.
That is some job description.
Thus I wasn't surprised when the Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, immediately stepped up to the line and was the first to take the public hit for allowing gatecrashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi into last week's White House state dinner for the prime minister of India. Sullivan promptly took personal responsibility for the "human errors" of the agents who had allowed the Salahis to talk themselves past three checkpoints even though they weren't on the invitation list. However, Sullivan pointed out that the Salahis were required to go through the metal detectors like every other guest, and thus, the president and his family were not in danger.
What was surprising to me, however, was that the White House allowed the Secret Service to take that first hit -- rather than immediately accepting at least shared responsibility for the social secretary's office not placing representatives at each of the checkpoints alongside Secret Service agents to turn away anyone not on the invitation list, as has been the custom in years past.
I was even more surprised that this politically savvy and crisis-management-wise White House allowed the social secretary (or, more likely, allowed White House lawyers to instruct her) to decline to appear, rather than encouraging her to "tell it all, tell it early, tell it herself" at a congressional oversight hearing several days later. This left it to Sullivan alone to appear voluntarily and take all the heat.
But it is one thing to forgive human errors by the honorable Secret Service officers, as well as errors in judgment by an overwhelmed and inexperienced new social secretary and her staff at their first state dinner. It is quite another when it comes to forgiving and forgetting what the Salahis did.
In my view, they not only should not be forgiven; they should be criminally prosecuted.
To begin with, crashing parties may be fun and funny in some settings. But there was nothing cute or funny about this reckless act of breaching security systems supposed to protect the president of the United States.
The evidence appears to be that the Salahis lied to federal officials -- Secret Service agents -- when they claimed to have been invited to the state dinner. If so, this could be a crime. They seem to have trespassed on secure White House property. That too could be a crime.
Their lame excuse that someone at the Pentagon whom they knew or had exchanged e-mails with had "encouraged" them to believe that they had been invited to the dinner is simply not credible. In fact, the alleged Pentagon official categorically denied their claim and said she had told them they were not invited.
So why should we care enough to spend time and resources criminally prosecuting the Salahis?
Quite simply, they need to be made an example of, to deter other similarly reckless, publicity-seeking people from attempting the same thing. At the very least, a criminal investigation is needed -- and, reportedly, is taking place.
I don't know whether the Salahis are innocent or guilty of any crimes. If they are indicted and convicted, I hope they receive the maximum penalty, including jail time, to achieve maximum deterrence.
How or why the Bravo network would want to grant recognition to such reckless people by casting them on their "Housewives" reality series is beyond me. But maybe, miraculously, viewers who watch theses shows precisely because they are so tasteless do have some limits. Perhaps if the Salahis are cast, Bravo viewers will have hit bottom, and will boycott any show that stoops so low as to feature those willing to engage in such a reckless stunt.
My impression of the Salahis is that, for them, if there is anything worse than criminal convictions and incarceration, it is not being cast on reality TV.
This piece appears December 10, 2009, in Mr. Davis's regular weekly column in The Hill newspaper, "Purple Nation."
Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, served as a member of President George W. Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2005-06. He is the author of Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics is Destroying America.
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