Tareq and Michaele Salahi were "invited" to testify before Congress today about their party-crashing ways, but they say they won't be appearing. Also not planning to show: White House social secretary Desiree Rogers.
According to Ginger Thompson of the New York Times, the Salahis' publicist (yes, they have one) issued a statement yesterday saying that "no laws were broken, that White House protocol relating to invitations was either deficient or mismanaged, and that there were honest misunderstandings and mistakes made by all parties involved." The publicist also claimed that the Salahis had cooperated with the Homeland Security Committee and that there was "nothing further they could do to assist Congress." Rather unsurprisingly, committee chair Rep. Bennie G. Thompson disagrees. He says "the committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their appearance." It now appears that subpoenas for the Salahis are likely, and the process of securing them could begin today.
It remains unclear whether Homeland Security will also subpoena Rogers. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, "based on separation of powers, staff here don't go testify before Congress" — but Congress isn't buying it. Rep. Peter T. King accuses the White House of "stonewalling," and says, "I don't want the Secret Service to be taking the hit here; what went wrong was the responsibility of the White House." In fact, the White House has accepted some blame for the crashing incident. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina has issued a memo detailing policy changes for future White House events, including posting White House staff at checkpoints. The memo also says, "After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex."
This admission likely won't forestall criticism of the White House or of Rogers herself. Time's Jay Newton-Small calls the "separation of powers" claim "a familiar excuse often cited by President Bush protecting Karl Rove, Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers," and says, "though, Bush usually cited that protection so that staff might speak freely when giving crucial advice on issues of national importance — not sure how much crucial advice the social secretary usually gives." Of course, the Bush White House "stonewalled" on some much worse issues than party-crashing — like, say, whether Iraq had WMDs. But the fact that Rogers and her staff committed a relatively small sin (that could, it's true, have had much more serious consequences than it eventually did) hasn't stopped the press from piling on. The Times's Caucus Blog reproduces this little exchange:
Q. Has there been any concern about Desiree Rogers' performance prior to this instance?
Mr. Gibbs: No.
Q. No one has questioned the president or told the president that she is a very last-minute person, poor planner?
Mr. Gibbs: No, I think you - you all have been to and seen, either whether you're part of a pool, whether some of you've been to receptions, the remarkable work that they have done in pulling off a lot of events here. The first family is quite pleased with her performance, and I've heard nothing uttered of what you talked about.
Q. Well, what about the issues of her being in fashion spreads early on in the administration? Did you put the brakes on that? I mean, that is - it's been raised. It's now public. It's - you know, you saw it in the magazines, her pictorials. You saw her on the cover of –
Mr. Gibbs: There's a - I get Sports Illustrated in my house.
Gibbs's Palinesque comment about Sports Illustrated isn't doing Rogers any favors, and it doesn't seem like the White House is handling criticism particularly well on this matter. Still, the focus on Rogers's reputation as a fashion maven feels a little unfair. Both the White House and Secret Service deserve blame for letting the Salahis slip through the cracks. But the Salahis, whose famewhoredom goes way back (here you can watch Michaele Salahi, in 2008, tossing a polo ball and then bizarrely narrating said tossing), started this whole mess by being charlatans. The state of Virginia has begun a formal investigation into their shady-seeming charity, America's Polo Cup. And they're the ones Congress should be most eager to talk to — but, as Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall says, "perhaps not inviting them would be a better way to get them to show up."
Subpoenas Possible In White House Gate-Crashing [NYT]
White House Accepts Some Blame For Dinner Crashers [LA Times]
Don't Tempt Us [Talking Points Memo]
Desiree's (Sure To Be) Bad Day [Time]
White House Blocks Testimony On Party Crashers [NYT]
EXCLUSIVE: Raw Footage Of Michaele & Tareq Salahi, Alleged White House Party Crashers, At The 2008 World Snow Polo Championships [Plum TV]
Va. Launches Probe Into Business Entity Run By Salahis [Washington Post]