Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple accused of crashing President Obama's first state dinner at the White House, appeared on the Today Show this morning and denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Salahi insisted that he and his wife did not crash the party but were in fact invited, telling host Matt Lauer "This has been the most devastating thing that has ever happened to us."
The couple said they are cooperating with the Secret Service and they are confident that "the truth will soon come out." But on MSNBC, Press Secretary Gibbs insisted the couple had not been invited and that this wasn't a misunderstanding. The AP reports:
"This wasn't a misunderstanding," the spokesman said. "You don't show up at the White House as a misunderstanding."
Said Salahi: "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."
Michaele Salahi had hoped to land a part on an upcoming Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C." NBC's parent company, NBC Universal, also owns the cable network Bravo.
Earlier this year, the Salahis attended a Congressional Black Caucus party and there are now questions about whether they had invitations to that affair.
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Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, confirmed that the Salahis were escorted out of a foundation dinner on Sept. 26. She said the couple was sitting at a $20,000-per-table section at the event where Obama was the keynote speaker. When other guests complained that someone was in their seats, the Salahis were asked to show their tickets. They were asked to leave when they couldn't produce them.
"They didn't argue," Cooper said. "They just looked a little sheepish and were escorted out."
Cooper added that a camera crew from Bravo requested permission to shoot video at the event a day or two before but was turned down because of heavy security required for Obama's appearance. In hindsight, she said she thinks the request was linked to the Salahis. The foundation raises money for scholarship and intern programs.
Last week's White House gate caper captivated a capital frequently as well known for its high-end social life and celebrity eruptions as the occasionally mundane day-to-day business of governance.
Interviewed on MSNBC, Gibbs said "it's safe to say he (Obama) was angry. Michelle was angry."
Gibbs noted that the Secret Service is investigating what went wrong and said the White House was also re-examining its procedures. He told the network, "I think the president really had the same reaction the Secret Service had, and that was great concern for how something like this happened."
Michaele Salahi described the couple as "shocked and devastated" when they saw accounts of the incident the following morning.
Asked if they had been mischaracterized, Tareq Salahi said, "No question ... It's been devastating what's happened to Michaele and I ... Our lives have really been destroyed."
"Everything we've worked for," Michaele Salahi told interviewer Matt Lauer.
"We were invited, not crashers, and there isn't anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that," she said. "No one would do that, and certainly not us."
Bravo producers filmed the couple preparing for the event but did not photograph the White House grounds.
Tareq Salahi said that the couple has been "very candid" with the Secret Service and said "we have turned over documentation to them."
"We're going to definitely work with the Secret Service between Michaele and I to really shed light on this," Tareq Salahi said. He indicated the couple had e-mails that would reinforce their position that they did not go uninvited to the dinner.
The couple also said they had not discussed accepting money from any party or organization, including NBC, for telling their story.
On Monday there were more twists in the unfolding mystery. It was revealed that they communicated with a senior Pentagon official about going to the event, but the official denied that she helped the couple get in.
Michele Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said in a written statement issued through the White House that she never said or implied she would get the Salahis into the event.
"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," Jones said. "Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."
Jones, the first female Sgt. Maj. of the U.S. Army, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. Jones is now a Pentagon-based White House liaison.
Asked about this Tuesday, Gibbs declined to comment directly, except to note that the matter remains under investigation.
WTTG-TV, the Fox affiliate in Washington, reported that the Salahis insisted that they had, indeed, been invited to the Black Caucus dinner, saying they'd gotten the invitation from the Gardner Law Group.
The Salahis' lawyer, Paul Gardner, is the managing partner of the Baltimore law firm, which handles corporate and entertainment law. Gardner has not returned phone calls or e-mails.
A congressional hearing is planned for Thursday.