December 1, 2009 / 2:26 PM / 10 years ago

Couple denies "crashing" White House state dinner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The couple who drew international attention by getting into a White House dinner without an invitation denied on Tuesday that they gate-crashed the high-security gala.

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) greets Michaele Salahi (C) and her husband Tareq (R) during a state dinner for India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) at the White House in this official White House photo taken November 24, 2009 and released November 27, 2009. REUTERS/Samantha Appleton-The White House/Handout

“We were invited, not crashers, and there isn’t anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that. The White House is ‘the house’ and no one would do that, certainly not us,” said Michaele Salahi, who appeared with her husband Tareq on NBC’s “Today” show.

The White House says the Salahis were not invited to President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, held a week ago in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“If your names are not on a list and you show up, in my book that’s called crashing,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNN.

The Salahis managed to penetrate a tight security cordon and have their photos taken with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other top White House officials.

The result was an embarrassing White House security lapse.

Asked on FOX News how irritated Obama was about the breach, Gibbs said “probably a seven or eight” on a scale of one to 10.

“If you didn’t get an invite, which they didn’t, you shouldn’t be here at an event. That’s for the safety and security of the president and his family, but also for the other guests,” he said.

The U.S. Secret Service, charged with protecting Obama, his family and White House officials, is investigating what went wrong, and Gibbs said the White House was also evaluating its procedures. Congress scheduled a hearing on the breach this week.

The Salahis declined to tell NBC who invited them to the dinner, saying they had turned over documents including e-mails to Secret Service investigators and would respect the agency’s needs and timelines.

The Salahis have been portrayed in the media as a pair of self-promoting social climbers intent on dominating the limelight and demanding money for interviews about their exploits.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been mischaracterized. Our lives have really been destroyed,” Tareq Salahi said.

He also denied reports that he and his wife showed up uninvited for a Congressional Black Caucus dinner and had to be escorted out.

“We were invited,” Tareq Salahi said. “Were we escorted out? Of course not. That’s another gossip, rumor.”

Tareq Salahi (R) and his wife Michaele Salahi arrive for a state dinner in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House in Washington November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Much of the media focus has been on Michaele Salahi who was auditioning for an upcoming reality television show called “The Real Housewives of D.C.” on the day of the dinner and had a camera crew in tow as she spent hours in a salon getting ready for the event.

The crew followed the Salahis to the White House but could not get into the dinner.

“Everything we’ve worked for,” she told NBC, “for me — 44 years — destroyed.”

Reporting by David Morgan and Vicki Allen

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