Couple didn't crash White House dinner, husband says
(CNN) — Tareq Salahi said Tuesday he and his wife “did not party-crash” a White House state dinner last week.
The Obama administration said Salahi and his wife, Michaele Salahi, attended but had not been invited to the state dinner for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and officials say they got into the event because of a breach in security.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show with his wife, Tareq Salahi said the aftermath of the incident has been “the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to us.”
“We’re greatly saddened by all the circumstances that have, you know, been involved and portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you, we did not party crash the White House.”
Salahi said he and his wife “are cooperating extensively with the U.S. Secret Service” in their investigation of the incident and said “the truth will soon come out.”
Yet White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday the Salahis were not on an invitation list of guests.
“If your name is not on an invitation list and you show up, in my book, that’s called crashing,” he said on CNN’s “American Morning.”
“The president was concerned about the security breach here, as was the Secret Service,” Gibbs said. “The Secret Service is evaluating their procedures.”
The Salahis said last week that they would appear Monday on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” but they later canceled after CNN reported Thursday about several lawsuits involving the Salahis. The couple’s publicist, Mahogany Jones, urged CNN to delay its report about the couple’s legal woes.
“We will begin doing press and media next week providing exclusive interviews and press junkets,” Jones said in an e-mail to CNN on Thursday. “If you would like to be considered in our media circuit we request that you hold your proposed published profile until then.”
On the “Today” show, Gibbs was asked about a report that the Salahis had an e-mail exchange with a Pentagon official and believed they had an invitation.
“I think if you ask the Salahis directly, they were not on a list here at the White House. Their name was not in a security tower in order to get into this secure complex. And they had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner.”
Monday, Defense Department official Michele Jones denied in a statement obtained by CNN that she helped try to get the couple on the list for the state dinner.
“I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening’s events,” Jones said in a prepared statement released by a White House official.
“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. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come.”
Jones is a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and serves as the Pentagon’s liaison to the White House. The Washington Post reported that the Salahis have turned over copies of an e-mail exchange with Jones to Secret Service investigators.
In the Tuesday interview on the “Today” show, however, the Salahis didn’t want to give more detail on their position while the Secret Service investigates. Tareq Salahi said he and his wife are “respecting” the Secret Service “timeline” and “want to get through that process.”
They suggested there was no misunderstanding.
“In our view, it’s clear to us. And based on the timeline, I think the American public is actually going to be extremely surprised with all the details that went from beginning to end into what was supposed to be a lovely, beautiful evening,” Tareq Salahi said.
The Salahis also denied a report that they were uninvited guests at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner in September, saying they had been invited there by a law firm and had been its guests at the dinner.
“Were we escorted out? Of course not. That’s another gossip rumor,” he said, saying the story got started through a gossip column.
Yet a spokesman for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation said Tuesday that the couple was asked to leave the event.
President Obama and the first lady also attended that fundraiser dinner, but foundation spokesman Lance Jones emphasized that “at no time did Mr. and Mrs. Salahi have access to President Obama and Mrs. Obama.”
Jones said that at the CBC foundation’s fundraiser two months ago, he saw the Salahis at the pre-dinner reception, and later in the evening was informed that the couple was seated at a table without tickets. The table was in the event’s “Gold Section,” where tables sell for $20,000 each, he added.
“At that time, I went to grab a few security personnel, who were not Secret Service,” Jones said. “We walked with (security) to the table and just tried to sort everything out. When we realized they did not have tickets, the security personnel escorted them out.”
The Salahis — who said they were not paid by NBC to make an appearance on the “Today” show — have been characterized as publicity hounds.
They said their lives have been “destroyed” by their notoriety.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been mischaracterized, you know, through the media and other paparazzi forums, and you know, our homes have been invaded, and it’s been just devastating what’s happened to Michaele and I,” Tareq Salahi said.