Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: White House “gate-crashers” say they’re suffering

They passed through layers of White House security to attend a lavish state dinner, got themselves photographed with the president and vice president and posted pix on Facebook. 
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It was supposed to be an experience to last a lifetime. But now, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple at the center of one of the most embarrassing White House security breaches of all time, say their lives have been destroyed by falsehood and gossip.
    
“Devastated. Shocked,” is how beautiful, blond, former NFL cheerleader Michaele recalls her reaction to the morning-after headlines in an interview with NBC’s Today show. And Tareq? “Very saddened,” he says.
    
According to the White House, the Salahis were not on the invitation list. But they insist they were invited and predict that e-mails now in the hands of the Secret Service will exonerate them in the end. 
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In the meantime, their lives are a one-syllable word for perdition.
    
Tareq: “Our lives have really been destroyed.” 
    
Michaele: “Everything we’ve worked for — for me, 44 years — destroyed.”
    
The U.S. media have made the Salahis out to be self-promoting social climbers who crashed the White House dinner while Michaele was auditioning for a new reality TV show called “The Real Housewives of Washington.” There have even been reports they tried to cash in on their exploits by demanding big bucks in exchange for media interviews.
    
A camera crew from the cable-TV channel, Bravo, did follow them to the edge of the White House grounds on the night of the dinner. But the bit about paid interviews is dead wrong, says Michaele: “At no time … have we ever even talked about doing that with anyone.”
    
Whether the Salahis are charged depends on a Secret Service probe to figure out just what happened. The Salahis tell NBC they hope to clear their name by sharing those e-mails as soon as the Secret Service says they can. When might that be? “We hope within the next several days,” Tareq says. 

Photo Credits: Reuters/Ho New (the Salahis and Obama); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (the Salahis)

The First Draft: Talk shows help drive Palin’s popularity

If Sarah Palin were elected president of the United States, would conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck wind up in her cabinet?

That’s a toughie. But Palin already tops the list of Republican Party favorites and that fact is due in part to her popularity with Limbaugh’s and Beck’s audiences, according to a Washington Post poll.
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Seventeen percent of Republicans, including 23 percent of Republican women, say they would vote for Palin if their party’s 2012 state primary election or caucus were held today.

She out-guns Mike Huckabee who got 10 percent of the vote, Mitt Romney at 9 percent and John McCain with only 7.

Christmas at the White House begins with arrival of THE tree

OBAMAWASHINGTON - Thanksgiving is over, President Barack Obama has pardoned one turkey (and eaten another), and now a giant Christmas tree has arrived at the White House.

Like it or not, Christmas is here.

First Lady Michelle Obama — with daughters Sasha and Malia — kicked off her traditional almost-December duties on Friday by accepting delivery of a 18 1/2 foot tall, 12 foot wide tree, which will be displayed in the White House Blue Room.

Reporters and a small group of guests gathered to watch the tree be pulled on a horse-drawn carriage down a White House driveway to the strains of ”Oh Christmas Tree” being played by a military band.

The First Draft: White House “gate crashers” to tell their own story

She’s blond and beautiful. He’s debonair. Together, with irresistible charm and a voracious appetite for self-promotion, they penetrated White House security to attend this week’s state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and got close enough to kiss Vice President Joe Biden.

That’s the current media image of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who could be the world’s most celebrated gate crashers since the British comedian who attended Prince William’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle in 2003 while dressed as Osama bin Laden in drag. OBAMA-DINNER/SECURITY
    
But is there more to the story?
    
The Salahis’ lawyer, Paul Gardner, suggests there is. “My clients were cleared, by the White House, to be there. More information is forthcoming,” he says in a statement published by the Washington Post.
    
The now-famous couple also plans to appear Monday on CNN’s Larry King Live.
    
Paul Wharton, a friend of the Salahis, tells ABC’s Good Morning America that the couple has had lots of contact lately with Indian officials and has spent a fair amount of time in India. Could that explain why they were at a dinner honoring the Indian PM? 
         
News accounts cast the Salahis as determined publicity seekers who posted their wedding on YouTube and boast an online photo gallery of themselves with loads of celebrities including Britain’s Prince Charles.
    
Michaele, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, is being considered for cable TV channel Bravo‘s upcoming reality series, The Real Housewives of Washington. In fact, the Post reports that she spent seven hours at a posh salon, TV production crew in tow, getting ready for the big night.
    
The camera crew followed Michaele and Tareq to the White House but couldn’t get in. The Salahis did and wound up being snapped for photos with Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. USA-GERMANY/
    
The Secret Service, which is charged with protecting President Barack Obama and other high-level officials, says the Salahis were not invited to the dinner. The agency is conducting a comprehensive review to get to the bottom of one of the most embarrassing security breaches in the history of White House dinners.
    
It’s not clear what could happen to the Salahis if they really did crash the party. But another friend of the couple, Casey Margenau, doesn’t sound too worried. “Whatever they do, they’ll land on their feet,” he tells ABC. “Promotion and parties are part of their life.”

Photo credits: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Michaele and Tareq Salahi); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Biden)

The First Draft: Palin for President?

Is she running for president? Seeking a coffee summit with Hillary Clinton? Or just selling her book?

The only clear answer about Sarah Palin’s intentions is that the questions are drawing lots and lots of U.S. media attention. 
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This week, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor is on the cover of Newsweek magazine. She’s also going on-air for separate interviews with TV’s Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters of ABC News.
    
It’s all about promoting her new memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” which goes on sale Tuesday. But the notion that she also might be testing the waters for a 2012 presidential run is what’s drawing the serious attention.
    
Supporters liken her to a populist 21st century Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. But not all the coverage is as she’d like it. OBAMA/
    
Newsweek, which pictures her on its cover as an attractive young woman in running shorts, scoffs at the idea of a Palin 2012 presidential campaign.
    
“Her brand of take-no-prisoners partisanship is not good for the Republicans in the long run and not good for the country,” Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham told MSNBC.
    
“When you have a kind of ‘death panel’ ideology, where you make pronouncements that are factually untenable and tend to inflame the conversation … that’s not good for governance.”
 
She got a warmer reception from another woman of the campaign trail, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Palin thinks she might like to meet over coffee.
 
“I absolutely would look forward to having coffee. I’ve never met her. And I think it would be, you know, very interesting to sit down and talk with her,” Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, said over the weekend. USA-GERMANY/
    
But the last word is likely to be Palin’s. Her book promotion is expected to draw huge crowds across the country. And while a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans don’t think she’s qualified to be president, a similar percentage of Republicans say she is.
  

Photo Credits: Reuters/Nathaniel Wilder (Palin); Reuters/Jason Reed (White House); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Clinton)

Is swine flu vaccine going to Guantanamo? Define “going”

GERMANY/Conservative politicians and commentators got up in arms this week after the Pentagon said it would send doses of hard-to-get H1N1 swine flu vaccine to terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

The White House denied it on Tuesday, emphatically, but also carefully — saying there is no vaccine at the U.S. military prison, or going there … now.

“There is no vaccine in Guantanamo and there’s no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said when queried about the burgeoning controversy.

Darth Vader, as played by Robert Gibbs

OBAMA/We saw a lot of photos over the weekend of President Obama and his wife, Michelle “Catwoman” Obama, handing out Halloween treats at the White House on Saturday night.

But we didn’t see one of the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who had dressed up as Darth Vader to join in the festivities.

So check out the photo. He is without his glasses, so he probably couldn’t see a thing. We imagine it would be tempting for him to bring the light saber to his daily news briefing and zap offending questioners.

Obamas turn White House into Halloween central

The White House glowed pumpkin orange on Saturday when the Obama family turned 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue into Halloween central, complete with a giant stuffed spider dangling from a web above its front door.

OBAMA/More than 2,000 local area children and their families were invited for the traditional trick-or-treat event.  

The Obamas spent about 30 minutes handing out cellophane bagfulls of boxed red, white and blue M&M’s. The boxes bore the presidential seal. Also tucked in was a home-baked orange-glazed cookie and, in a nod to Michelle Obama’s efforts to promote healthy food, dried apricots and cranberries.

Is Palin’s fee too steep for Iowa?

Iowa Republicans have differences over the propriety of a conservative group’s effort to raise a $100,000 fee for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to speak at a banquet next month,  according to Politico.com.

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Whether Palin requested a fee (and there’s no indication that she did says Politico) or whether she should be paid may be a moot point — but, more about that later.

First — It’s not the amount of the fee that has some Iowans bothered — it’s that a fee is even being considered at all.

Schwarzenegger swears F-word in veto letter ‘wild coincidence’

USA/California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger swears that the profanity spelled out when looking at his veto letter a certain way was pure coincidence.

The Republican governor was in Washington for an event with Vice President Joe Biden to praise the economic stimulus package as having successfully created jobs. He spoke afterward with reporters in front of the White House West Wing to tout it some more.

One question was about the veto letter he sent to members of the California State Assembly. Upon closer inspection, the first letters on each line in the second and third paragraphs spell out an epithet using the four-letter F-word that is usually hurled in anger.