America's most notorious gate-crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, benefited from the debt ceiling crisis this week.
Best known for sneaking into a White House State Dinner in 2009, the Salahis have had a tough time scoring invitations to D.C. parties ever since, what with that testy congressional hearing and the reality TV disaster.
But if you saw Michaele Salahi waltz across the crowded patio of Cava Mezze on Thursday trailed by cameras, you'd never know it.
The event was Recess Bash, hosted by the gossip site FamousDC, and the evening’s scheduled highlight was awarding HuffPost intern Alex Becker a t-shirt for winning a contest to design the best app, entitled "DC Intern Fashion FAIL."
But a few days before the party, organizers faced a potentially large drop-off of attendees as congressional staffers would be stuck at work Thursday while their bosses wrangled over the debt ceiling. The best remedy, they decided, was to accept everyone who sent in a response via email -- even those who hadn’t been officially invited.
Early Thursday morning, an Australian filmmaker sent a list of 10 guest names to the FamousDC RSVP address. Most of them were camera crew people, but one of them was Michaele Salahi. Under instructions to accept everyone, the intern wrote back that they'd all be welcome at the party. Colin Judd, a PR agent assisting the Australian crew, told The Huffington Post that the group had originally been invited as guests of Aussie laundry detergent promoter Adam Whitaker. An organizer did not dispute that this could have happened.
Fast forward a few hours, when a junior producer arrived at the empty bar at 5:30 p.m. and told staff he had permission to film a TV show there for Aussie VH1. FamousDC organizers objected. Instead of leaving, a witness said the guy "just started hanging around in a corner."
As more guests arrived, two FamousDC interns manned the door. Their bosses assert that at one point the interns stepped away, allowing the producer to hustle Michaele Salahi and the crew through the club doors. The camera crew claims they walked in without incident. According to the film producer, "I already knew we were on the list and there was no one at the door, so I just figured it wasn't a door party."
Once inside, Salahi "created a shitshow," according to a guest. She worked with room, posed for photos and mugged for her own cameras. Crew members armed with TV release forms chased down guests who'd accidentally shown up on film.
The antics went on for 40 minutes before security finally told Salahi and her crew to leave, an exchange both the producers and the organizers confirm.
The Salahis claim the whole evening was planned. In a statement to HuffPost, the couple said, "The venue and the party organizers signed all paperwork, waivers and filming rights for this … and the film crew were part of the evening festivities and everyone signed up for this publicity move with the PR firm."
But FamousDC organizers deny this version of events, as does Colin Judd of Grayling Inc., the PR firm the Salahis are referring to. "That's an out-and-out lie, we never signed off on anything," said a party organizer. Judd also denies that anyone "signed up" for anything with his firm. "We set up an interview for the Salahis earlier in the afternoon, but we certainly did not have a contract for the Salahis to attend the party."
After the Salahi entourage left, a guest overheard Michaele Salahi tell a fellow partygoer, "We were paid to be here," referring to the fees sometimes paid to celebrities for attending high-profile events. "Really?" the person asked. Salahi smiled and replied, "Well, you know how it is."
Judd denied having paid the Salahis to attend, and the Salaihis still claim the appearance was "contracted."
Given FamousDC's purported horror at the latest Salahi security breach, the fact that Michaele and the cameras were allowed to stay at the party for nearly an hour suggests that the bloggers saw some benefit in not immediately kicking them out.
After all, FamousDC needs buzz and press to stay relevant -- like a shark, they've got to keep swimming or they sink. The Salahis are not entirely different.