November 28, 2009 in Nation/World

Uninvited guests met president

‘Deeply concerned’ Secret Service says couple under probe
Peter Nicholas And Josh Meyer Tribune Washington bureau
 
Associated Press photo

This White House photo shows President Barack Obama greeting Michaele and Tareq Salahi, right, at Tuesday’s state dinner for India’s prime minister.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – The Virginia couple who crashed this week’s state dinner at the White House met face to face with President Barack Obama in the event’s receiving line, officials acknowledged Friday, as the Secret Service began investigating whether the couple broke any criminal laws in getting inside without an official invitation.

A Secret Service spokesman confirmed the agency is conducting a two-pronged inquiry establishing whether the couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, engaged in any “misconduct,” while also determining how the president’s bodyguards came to let them inside.

In a picture released by the White House on Friday, Michaele Salahi is shown clasping Obama’s hand as the president greets guests in the Blue Room. Both are smiling. Her husband is shown looking on.

Pictures posted on Michaele Salahi’s Facebook page also showed the couple standing next to a smiling Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

The acknowledgment that the pair had stood next to the president is likely to inflame calls for formal reviews of the incident. Even before the revelation, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., had called for a congressional hearing on the issue.

Although the couple went through a metal detector, that is not sufficient to protect the president and White House officials, King said. A determined terrorist could have smuggled in biological weapons or used knives and forks to inflict harm, he said.

“If these had been terrorists or psychopaths who had anthrax or training in the martial arts, and who were arm in arm with the vice president and Cabinet officials, they could in a matter of seconds have killed someone,” King said.

At no point during the party was the breach discovered and the couple removed; they left on their own, officials said.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said: “The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the state dinner … .”

He went on to say the couple “should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely. That failing is ours.”

Spokesman Jim Mackin said the agency will review exactly what the couple told the Secret Service when they showed up at the White House for the party in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Legal experts said the Salahis could face exposure if they made false statements in the course of gaining entrance to the party.

As part of the inquiry, investigators will interview the Secret Service agents and White House staff who were at the dinner and will look at visitor logs and footage from security cameras.


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