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Desiree Rogers a focus of White House party crasher probe

Lawmakers of both parties want White House social secretary Desiree Rogers to appear before Congress. White House refusal amounts to ‘stonewalling,’ some say.

By Staff writer / December 4, 2009

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers walks along the West Wing Colonnade of the White House in Washington, Friday. Rogers has been the focus of attention since two uninvited partygoers were able to enter the White House grounds and shake hands with President Barack Obama during a formal state dinner.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

There’s growing pressure on the White House to allow social secretary Desiree Rogers to appear before a congressional committee to explain why a couple without an invitation managed to crash last week’s state dinner for the prime minister of India.

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A number of Republican lawmakers already have been pushing for Ms. Rogers to appear, saying that administration refusal to produce her has amounted to “stonewalling.”

On Friday a Democrat who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee emphasized that she, too, thinks Rogers should tell lawmakers in a public forum why the social secretary’s office did not assign someone to each entry site into the dinner, to ensure attendees actually were on the guest list.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) of California told the “Today” show that Congress had a right to such information. And she professed surprise that the White House had not conducted such a level of screening.

“Even Wal-Mart has a greeter,” Representative Sanchez said.

On Thursday, the House Homeland Security panel held a hearing into the matter, in which Tareq and Michaele Salahi managed to circumvent security and enter the Obama administration’s first state dinner.

Both Rogers and the Salahis themselves declined to appear before the House panel. The only witness was Mark Sullivan, director of the US Secret Service.

Much of the hearing discussion dealt with a meeting held between the Secret Service and the White House prior to the state dinner, at which the Secret Service agreed that the social secretary’s office would provide only roving checkers behind the entry points to ensure guests actually had invitations.

Such an arrangement was unusual, Mr. Sullivan admitted. But he said it was not unprecedented.

“It does not happen often, but we have seen other events ... where that does in fact occur,” said Sullivan.

The hearing produced a number of other interesting revelations and congressional comments.

The layout. Sullivan laid out the map of security entrances to the White House for the event before the committee. There were two checkpoints for people arriving on foot and three vehicle checkpoints for the 35 to 40 vehicles expected to drop off very important persons in the White House driveway.

The Salahis presented themselves at a checkpoint for those arriving on foot, at 15th Street NW and Alexander Hamilton Place. They talked their way past the Secret Service detail on duty, then passed through the event’s one security magnetometer, inside the East Wing, which screened them for metal devices.

Springsteen’s security. Members of Congress themselves attend events at the White House, and a number of members compared the ease with which the Salahis managed to get in with their own more-difficult experiences.

Rep. Jane Harmon (D) of California even compared White House security unfavorably with that at a recent Bruce Springsteen concert she attended.

Tickets for the Springsteen concert arrived well in advance, noted Harmon, and came printed on tamper-proof paper. They had barcodes, which allowed them to be quickly scanned for authenticity.

“I am suggesting there may be more modern techniques for screening people who are trying to enter the White House building,” said Representative Harmon.

Obama’s safety. The Secret Service director said that the president was never in danger and that the security breach was an aberration. One lawmaker raised the issue of biological terrorism, pointing out that President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine was poisoned at a dinner.

Sullivan said only that he would be happy to talk about that issue in a closed setting. The implication is that there are measures in place to protect a president against such an attack within the White House itself.

Sullivan also added that, contrary to news reports, there has not been an upsurge in threats against President Obama’s life, as compared with the rate of such threats made against the previous two presidents.

See also:

Gate-crashing Salahis find reality TV not all its cracked up to be

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