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Dec 01, 2009 at 11:46pm IST

US couple denies crashing White House dinner

Washington: The Virginia couple, who skirted a tight White House security to gatecrash the high-profile state dinner in honour of the Indian Prime Minister, said on Tuesday they were "invited" to attend the gala event.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia socialites best known for their polo events, were splashed in the global media after they were able to attend the gala, even though they were not on the official guest list.

However, they insisted they "were invited" not crashers". "We were invited, not crashers," said Michaele, speaking to NBC's Today Show programme.

PROBE ORDERED: The couple have been summoned by the Secret Service as well as the US Congress.

"There isn't anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behaviour to do that... certainly not us," she said.

Appearing on the national broadcast with his wife, Tareq said the row over their attendance at the Tuesday dinner has been a "most devastating" experience.

Salahi told the channel there's more to their side of the story -- an explanation that would exonerate them from allegations of misconduct in the breach of White House security.

Michaele and her husband Tareq attended the dinner at the highly secured White House on November 24 allegedly "uninvited" and managed to shake hands with Obama, with India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looking on.

A US Congress committee on security will summon US Secret Service Chief and the Virginia couple.

The denial by the couple, who also are reported to be aspiring reality television stars, came as the US Secret Service began a probe to get to the bottom of the breach of several layers of security at the White House event.

The couple told NBC that they were "devastated" by the continuing swirl of rumours and allegations since the state dinner, each saying during the interview that "our lives have been ruined" by the scandal.

However, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, stood by the White House earlier position that the Salahis had not been invited. Gibbs told NBC, in a separate interview, that the couple was not on the guest list and there had been no misunderstanding.

"They were not on a list here at the White House," Gibbs said, adding "They had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets to that dinner".

"This wasn't a misunderstanding. You don't show up at the White House as a misunderstanding," Gibbs said, adding that the "matter is continuing to be looked into criminally."

The couple said they were cooperating with the probe by Secret Service. Tareq said they both have "great respect" for President Obama.

"We're greatly saddened by all the circumstances ... portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you we did not party-crash the White House," he said.

Earlier on Tueday, Gibbs said that the President and his wife Michelle were both upset by the incursion. He told news channel MSNBC: "it's safe to say he was angry. Michelle was angry."

The controversial Virginia couple also dismissed suggestions that they were trying to get the best deal from any party or organisation, including NBC, for telling their story.

Meanwhile, E-mails turned over to the Secret Service show that Tareq and Michaele had sought help from Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defence, Michele S Jonesa, to gain access to the White House event, The Washington Post said.

Tareq told the NBC host Matt Lauer in his first television interview that this has been "the most devastating thing that has ever happened to us".

We are "greatly saddened" for being labelled as "as party crashers"

"I can tell you this has been the most devastating thing that's ever happened to us. We're greatly saddened by all the circumstances that have, you know, been involved in portraying my wife and I as party-crashers. And I can tell you, we did not party-crash the White House," Tareq said.

He said: "We've been mischaracterised through the media and other paparazzi forums. And, you know, our homes have been invaded. It's been just devastating what's happened to Michaele and I and our friends, colleagues, our business partners."

Commenting on the media frenzy, Michaele said: "Our lives have been destroyed, everything we've worked for. For me, 44 years, just destroyed".

The House Homeland Security Committee has called the Salahis and the Secret Service to attend a hearing Thursday about the security breach.

"We are cooperating extensively with the US Secret Service on their internal review and investigation. We're going to continue to cooperate and the truth will soon come out," Tareq said on TV.

Tareq said the American public is actually going to be "extremely surprised with all the details that went from beginning to end into what was supposed to be a lovely, beautiful evening."

The couple insisted "they were invited". "This is the first time I've ever heard, you know, another false accusation against my wife and I, saying that we

weren't invited there," Tareq said.

"We were invited there by the Gardner Law Group. We were a guest of theirs, proud guest of theirs. And, no, were we escorted out? Of course not. That's, you know, another gossip rumour, just unfortunate, like how this story got started through a gossip column," he told NBC channel.

The White House released a statement from Jones, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defence, stating: "I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening s activities. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

Gibbs told the channel that the Salahis were "not at a security tower in order to get into this secure complex and they had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner."

The Secret Service has apologised for the serious security breach with its director Mark Sullivan stating that the "failing is ours".

However, the couple did not make it all the way to tent in the South Lawn where both Singh and Obama raised toasts and dinner was served.

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