As more details emerge about the Salahis' gate-crashing episode last month, the White House has apparently ordered social secretary Desiree Rogers to keep a low profile — and some think she may even be fired.
The White House won't discuss the details of a planning meeting between Rogers and the Secret Service that took place before the state dinner, and Rogers's voice has been absent from the flurry of buck-passing after the event (the owner of Half Yard Productions, who filmed the Salahis' pre-dinner salon visit, says, "We took them at their word and filmed their preparations for the event. Half Yard Productions had no part in planning their presence at the event."). Her silence, along with the refusal of most Secret Service and social office employees to go on record, has left the field wide open for Cathy Hargraves, the Bush appointee who says Rogers "stripped her" of her former job responsibilities. It's hard not to read a bit of Schadenfreude into Hargraves's statement about what she would have done to keep the Salahis out:
I would have called the deputy social secretary, checked that they were not on our guest lists, and then told the Secret Service, 'Please don't let them in.' Everybody would have been on the lookout for them.
The aftermath of the gate crashing has led to questions about Secret Service management and new security plans for future events. But finger-pointing at Rogers continues unabated. Rep. Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee wants to subpoena her, and has gone so far as to sent her a letter asking if her policies as social secretary "interfered with, countermanded, or in any way conflicted with security considerations." Meanwhile, the press coverage of Rogers has dialed up to full snark. Sandra McElwaine of The Daily Beast writes that Rogers has been forced to accept a lower-profile role in White House operations, and that she may even be shunted off into a position as "ambassador to some neutral country like Switzerland or Luxemburg" once the Salahi scandal has cooled. McElwaine opens her piece thus:
Desiree Rogers will no longer be swanning about at White House parties. Au contraire. Ever since the glamorous social secretary was hobnobbing with celebrities, oblivious to two reality TV wannabes who were crashing the Obamas' first state dinner in November she has been given a timeout.
Even though her Louboutin stilettos still click down the historic hallways of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there have been no more appearances in designer gowns or pronouncements about pushing the unique Obama brand. Instead the sophisticated Harvard MBA seems to be adapting to more formal protocol and attempting to play a more traditional behind-the-scenes role as she oversees the care and feeding of more than 50,000 guests at 28 different holiday receptions.
And Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed suggests that Rogers's silence comes as the result of White House fiat, saying, "Desiree Rogers has been corked . . . curbed . . . shushed . . . hushed . . . and told to keep the lid on it." Sneed adds,
The muffle kerfuffle stems from the West Wing getting tired of the ego show in the East Wing, er, the ladies' room, if you get my drift. (When Desiree was Peoples Gas communications chief she selected herself to star in Peoples Gas TV ads!)
Gate-crashing is a part of it ... but not all. How much you want to bet the expensive gowns and glamor by first lady Michelle Obama's East Wing clique get tamped down in this age of economic uncertainty?
All this excitement over Rogers's chastening — "the sophisticated Harvard MBA" forced to quit "hobnobbing" — seems not so much out of proportion as oddly worded, as though what was important was not a security breach itself but Rogers's penchant for designer clothes (Sneed asks "will Desiree don something more like ... 'comme' to reality?"). And while Rogers's office clearly made serious errors in its handling of the dinner, the focus on her former lifestyle and current comeuppance sounds a bit like mockery of a black woman who tried to rise above her station — mockery that even extends, in Sneed's case, to the First Lady and her "clique." Rogers clearly screwed up, but it sometimes seems as though her crime occurred long before the Salahis showed up at the White House, and that she's being punished now not for the security breach, but for thinking she could wear expensive clothes and take a high-profile role in White House activities. Perhaps bored by the procedural minutiae of the White House social office, the press seems eager to indict its secretary for the sin of pride.
The Salahis' Night At The White House And A Contentious Day After [Washington Post]
The New White House Wallflower [Daily Beast]
D.C. Gag Rule Out On Desiree Rogers [Sun-Times, via Time]