White House Aide Quits over Manmohan Dinner Crash

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Feb 27 (IANS) In a demonstration of accountability, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, under fire since two wannabe reality TV stars crashed President Barack Obama's first state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, announced she is stepping down to return to the corporate world.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama issued a statement Friday saying they are "enormously grateful" to their long time friend Rogers "for the terrific job she's done as the White House Social Secretary."

But the Obamas made no mention of what he had called a "screw up" on Nov 24 night when an uninvited Virginia couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, one dressed in a tuxedo and the other in a bright red lehnga choli, slipped past layers of security to crash the dinner.

Rogers admitted that nobody from her staff was working at the gates and check points when the Salahis slipped in. The couple spent up to two hours on the grounds, making it all the way to the Blue Room to shake hands with the president and prime minister.

The US Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting the president, his family, and visiting dignitaries has taken blame for the incident, but Rogers came under heavy fire for not stationing someone at the gate with Secret Service agents in a break from past practice.

"When she took this position, we asked Desiree to help make sure that the White House truly is the People's House, and she did that by welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers," the statement from the Obamas said.

"She organized hundreds of fun and creative events during her time here, and we will miss her. We thank her again for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavours."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Rogers had not been asked to leave her position in the administration and said he did not think the gate-crashing incident played into her decision.

The Salahi episode was not a factor in her resignation, Rogers told the Chicago Sun Times Friday. "The incident at the State Dinner was not a deciding factor," she said. "But it did show me a side of the job and of Washington that I had not seen before."

"As we turn the corner on the first year," she told her hometown newspaper, "This is a good time for me to explore opportunities in the corporate world."

Rogers said it has been "an honour and a privilege to serve this president and first lady, in what has certainly been a historic presidency."

She summed up her experiences at the White House in a note to CNN: "330 events. Halloween for 3,000. Easter egg roll for 30,000. Music series with perfomances and the performers teaching the students during the day. Latin, jazz, country, civil rights. "

An Obama administration official told ABC News that the leading candidate to replace Rogers as White House social secretary was Julianna Smoot. Smoot, currently the chief of staff for US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, was the national finance director for the 2008 presidential campaign of Obama, where she headed a record-setting fundraising operation.



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