Inquisition begins over state dinner gatecrashing
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan looked like he was having a bad day as he sat facing a firing squad of lawmakers determined to find out how the vaunted Secret Service could allow uninvited guests into the White House and even into a receiving line to shake hands with President Barack Obama.
“I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times over this past week,” Sullivan told the House Homeland Security Committee when asked how Tareq and Michaele Salahi were allowed to talk their way into the White House for last week’s state dinner although they were not on the guest list.
“Do I like to see this? Believe me, we are beating ourselves up over this,” said Sullivan, who looked like he could use a good night’s sleep and seemed to have a 5 o’clock shadow even at 10 a.m.
Sullivan said he had put three Secret Services officers on paid leave for their role in letting the Virginia couple into the state dinner held in honor of the Indian prime minister.
Sullivan’s agency has been the brunt of criticism after the Salahis talked their way into the White House and managed to pose with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and others including the Marines guarding the White House.
Many members of the committee urged Sullivan — the sole witness at the hearing after Social Secretary Desiree Rogers and the Salahis refused to testify — to share out some of the blame. One after another, the lawmakers questioned why no one from the White House Social Office was helping to staff the checkpoints to verify guests’ identities as they arrived at last Tuesday’s state dinner.
But the Secret Service director held strong to his acceptance of responsibility. His only waver was when he grudgingly admitted “it would have helped” stop the Salahis from entering if a White House staffer had been present when the couple went through the checkpoint.
Some lawmakers expressed surprise at Sullivan’s refusal to pass on some of the blame to others like the Social Secretary’s office.
“I’m very impressed by your willingness to take responsibility for this incident,” said Republican Representative Charles Dent.
“We always expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president; we don’t expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president’s staff.”
The Salahis may not be so lucky. Committee staff said they were preparing subpoenas to force the couple to testify.
Photo credits: Reuters/Larry Downing (Sullivan testifies before House committee); Samantha Appleton, White House Handout (Obama shakes hands with Michaele Salahi as her husband Tareq looks on)