WASHINGTON--The Obama White House on Wednesday blocked Social Security Desiree Rogers from testifying today before the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on how wannbe reality TV stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi whizzed by Secret Service agents and crashed the Nov. 24 state dinner.
The Salahi's also may not appear at the hearing; chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he may subpoena the couple if they do not show up.
WASHINGTON -- The Obama White House on Wednesday blocked social secretary Desiree Rogers from testifying today before the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on how wannabe reality TV stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi whizzed by Secret Service agents and crashed the Nov. 24 state dinner.
Rogers, the Salahis and Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan were invited to testify. Sullivan accepted. The Salahis sent their lawyer to meet with committee staff on Wednesday; later in the day the panel was told they may not show up. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement that the "committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their appearance."
Tareq and Michaele Salahi are interviewed on the "Today" show. The couple that got into the White House state dinner for the visiting Indian prime minister without invitations denied Tuesday that they were gatecrashers.
Gibbs was asked at the Wednesday briefing if Rogers was going to go to testify at the hearing.
"I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress. She won't -- she will not be testifying in front of Congress," he said.
Other presidents have also blocked White House staffers from appearing as witnesses at congressional hearings, the most notable being Karl Rove, former President Bush's top adviser.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the panel, had requested Rogers' testimony. He told me Wednesday he did not buy the separation of powers argument and that the White House not letting Rogers appear before his committee was "obvious stonewalling. . . . Why provoke a needless confrontation?"
King said he met with the Salahis' lawyer who, in their meeting, "laid out what their story was."
Meanwhile, just as the White House holiday party season is kicking off this week -- 50,000 guests expected in December -- and in the wake of the security breach, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina announced new guidelines for making sure only invited guests enter the White House.
The Secret Service took the blame for letting the Salahis past checkpoints even though their names were not on the guest lists. The agents didn't even call anyone from Rogers' office to determine if the Salahis should be admitted. Rogers did have staff circulating outside the East Wing entrance, just not at the door with a clipboard.
Statement from Chairman Bennie G. Thompson
December 2, 2009 (WASHINGTON) - The following statement was released by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security regarding the Committee's hearing tomorrow:
"Late this evening, I was informed by the Salahis' counsel, that their clients, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, may not appear before the Committee tomorrow as requested. The Salahis' testimony is important to explain how a couple circumvented layers of security at the White House on the evening of a State Dinner without causing alarm.
The Committee on Homeland Security must understand the full scope of what went so terribly wrong on Tuesday night to ensure that security gaps are sealed. This can only be achieved by hearing both sides of the matter.
If the Salahis are absent from tomorrow's hearing, the Committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their appearance."
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From Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the ranking Republican on the committee....
In light of the statement from the Salihis that they will not testify and
Chairman Thompson's statement referencing subpoenas, Mr. King made the following
"Obviously the Salahis' testimony would be significant, and the Committee
should do whatever is necessary to obtain it. It is far more important, though,
to obtain the testimony of White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers. The
White House should not be allowed to stonewall by refusing the Committee's
request that Ms. Rogers testify. What is the White House trying to hide?"