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White House stiffs Congress on gate-crashers

December 3, 2009 |  7:56 am

Michaele Salahi

Hiding behind the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine, the White House refused today to allow Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to testify on Capitol Hill on that embarrassing lapse of protocol and security when a couple not on the invite list crashed President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's first state dinner.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who talked their way into the White House, opted to submit to an interview by NBC's Matt Lauer rather than appear before the House Homeland Security Committee. And the committee's chairman, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, is not happy.

"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," he said in a statement. "The committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their appearance."

Meanwhile, the stonewalling at the White House continues. This morning senior aide Valerie Jarrett told ABC's "Good Morning America" that there is no reason for Rogers to testify.

"We've really answered the questions fully," she said.

It took several days before the White House acknowledged any responsibility for the breach, when Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina posted this statement on whitehouse.gov: "After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex."

According to Jarrett, that not only covers any questions Congress might have but also meets Obama's promise for transparency.

As for that assertion of separation of powers, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I think you know that based on separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress." 

Lots of White House aides have, of course, and some have been forced to testify under subpoena. In this case, George Mason University's Mark Rozell, an expert on executive privilege, told Time magazine, "I'd completely fall out of my chair if they invoked executive privilege with regards to a social secretary arranging a party. There is no prohibition under separation of powers against White House staff going to Capitol Hill to talk about what they know."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Michaele Salahi. Credit: Getty Images

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