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'Uninvited couple attends White House dinner for Indian PM'

Source: PTI
November 26, 2009 12:04 IST
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An unprecedented security breach took place at the high-profile 'black tie' state dinner, when a Virginia couple entered the White House uninvited and had a "wonderful time" in the company of President Barack Obama, the first lady, and the Indian prime minister.

Though President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were never in any danger because the uninvited guests went through the same security screening as the 300-plus high profile guests, the US Secret Service has started a probe into how Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a couple of aspiring reality-TV stars from Northern Virginia, managed to slip into Tuesday night's state dinner even though they were not on the guest list, agency spokesman Ed Donovan said.

The Washington Post broke the story after the couple went on to boast about their coup on a Facebook webpage, in which they appear in photos with Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and TV news anchor Katie Couric. According to the US daily, the polo-playing socialites, known for a bitter family feud over a Fauquier County winery and their possible roles in the forthcoming 'The Real Housewives of Washington', were seen arriving at the White House and later posted on Facebook photos of themselves with VIPs at the elite gathering.

"Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!" one of them wrote on their joint Facebook page at 9:08 pm.

Mahogany Jones, who described herself as a publicist for the Salahis, denied that they were interlopers.

"The Salahis were honoured to be a part of such a prestigious eventÂ… They both had a wonderful time," Jones was quoted as saying by the Post.

But a White House official said the couple were not invited to the dinner, not included on the official guest list and never seated at a table in the South Lawn tent.

It appears to be the first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House state dinner.

The uninvited guests were in the same room as President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and the Indian Prime Minister although it is unclear whether they met the Obamas and the guest of honour.

According to the report, the Salahis, both in their 40s, showed up about halfway through the guest arrivals.

"A Marine announced their names, and the couple -- he in a tux, she in a striking red and gold lehenga (traditional Indian formalwear) -- swept pass reporters and photographers, stopping several times to pose for pictures.

"They then walked into the White House lower hallway, where they mingled with guests on the red carpet before heading up to the cocktail reception in the East Room," the Post said.

The polo-playing socialites had pictures taken with Bollywood composer AR Rahman, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Obama's Chief of Staff and two with the US vice president. Facebook photos suggest that the Salahis walked into the tent where dinner was held, though it's unclear when they left. There were no shots of the Salahis sitting at a table, their seatmates or the post-dinner entertainment.

The US Secret Service spokesman said a preliminary internal probe had identified "a checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list".

According to a top official, the White House will conduct its own review into the breach of security.

"Everyone who enters the White House grounds goes through magnetometers and several other levels of screenings," said spokesman Donovan, adding, "That was the case with the state dinner last night. No one was under any risk or threat."

The Salahis, who were well-known in the Virginia horse-country set, said their presence at the dinner was linked to 2010 Polo Cup World Championships.

"India is the challenger in the America's Polo Cup World Championships June 11/12 2010, and they are very excited in this first ever cultural connection being hosted on the DC National Mall since Polo is one of the primary sports in India," Tareq told the Post. When pressed about their names not on the official list, he added, "It was last-minute attending."
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