Out of White House, Obama Aide Denies Role in Gatecrash

By Arun Kumar

Washington, March 2 (IANS) Days after quitting, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers has claimed her office followed protocol the night an uninvited couple gatecrashed President Barack Obama's state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Rogers also denied reports that her staff wasn't present at the main gate when the wannabe reality TV stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi got through layers of security to enter the White House and shake hands with both Obama and Manmohan Singh at the Nov 24 event.

It simply was not true that the social office veered from the Bush administration practice of stationing staff at the gates to vet people along with the Secret Service, she told NOLA.com, a New Orleans, Louisiana news website.

Rogers said that in keeping with established practice, a member of her staff of five was at the main entrance all night. According to White House procedure, she said, the first point of contact arriving guests had was with the Secret Service, who would check all the names against the guest list.

It was up to the Secret Service to alert her staff to names not on the list, she said, and in the case of the Salahis, her staff was not alerted.

The notion that she was personally supposed to be at the door checking guests is "hogwash", she was quoted as saying. Her primary responsibilities that night were, she said, to see to the protocol needs of the president and first lady at the state dinner.

Rogers said she didn't know anything about the gatecrashers - who she said left before dinner - until the next day.

"It was brought to my attention the next morning when the Secret Service came to my office to apologise, and I said, 'What are you guys talking about?'" she was quoted as saying. "They knew immediately who the woman (Michaele Salahi) was."

The Secret Service has taken responsibility for the mistake. Three uniformed Secret Service officers were put on administrative leave following the state dinner incident.

Lawmakers had demanded that Rogers testify to Congress about the event. But the White House declined the request, citing a separation of powers and a history of White House staffers not testifying before Congress.

The Salahis maintain they went to the dinner thinking they might be on the guest list. A Pentagon official Michele Jones was trying to get them on the list, and a production company shooting for a potential reality show - Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C." -followed the Salahis around as they prepared for the dinner.




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