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Question time for White House gatecrashers

IANS
Dec 10, 2009 at 01:03pm IST

Washington: A Congressional panel has summoned a socialite couple to explain how they gate crashed into US President Barack Obama's state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and shook hands with them both, proving a major security lapse.

The House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service that protects the president and visiting foreign dignitaries, voted 26-3 Wednesday to subpoena Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who are reality TV hopefuls, to appear before it on January 20.

The couple's lawyer has said previously that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify in the event they were subpoenaed to appear on Capitol Hill and discuss the Nov 24 security breach at Obama's first State dinner. In a letter on Tuesday from the couple's lawyer to the committee leadership, the Salahis stated in signed declarations that they will invoke their privilege against self-incrimination and decline to answer questions from the committee.

CLOSE ENOUGHT: President Obama greets Michaele Salahi (C) and her husband Tareq (R) at the White House.

The Secret Service is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the security breach, and charges have yet to be referred for prosecution. An amendment to subpoena White House social secretary Desiree Rogers was rejected 17 to 12.

Pete King, top Republican on the panel, argued that the White House's decision not to post an aide at the Secret Service checkpoint contributed to the security lapse. The White House declined a previous request by King to have Rogers testify, citing executive privilege.

King said executive privilege was not relevant in this case because Rogers was not providing the President with sensitive counsel.

"We're not talking about giving confidential advice to the president," King said "We're talking about who's going to stand where outside the White House at a state dinner."

The lawmaker said that it has become increasingly obvious "that she is an absolutely essential component" of the investigation.

King said after the hearing he would be open to a closed-door session with Rogers, but that so far his talks with White House officials had not been fruitful.

"So long as we can get her to tell us what happened," he said, adding that he doesn't buy the separation of powers argument. "We aren't trying to cause a constitutional crisis. We don't have to have TV cameras, we don't have to have it under oath or announced to the public."

Meanwhile, Tareq Salahi has resigned under criticism from the Virginia Tourism Authority board. The resignation was sent in a 130-word e-mail Monday to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Alisa Bailey, president of the Virginia Tourism Corp, saying "unfortunate negative and tabloid type media" has made him a distraction to the tourism panel.

Virginia's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also is investigating a charitable polo event they sponsor.

India which was to feature in the 2010 edition of the match pulled out of the event after the White House gate crashing episode.

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