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Accused White House party crashers insist: 'We were invited'

Tareq Salahi, who with wife Michaele was at the Obamas' first state dinner, says, 'The truth will come out.' The White House's Robert Gibbs says the truth is, it was an unauthorized intrusion.

December 01, 2009|By Mark Silva

Reporting from Washington — The couple who made their way into a White House state dinner and met the president, vice president and other high-level officials said today they were not gate crashers and were "shocked and devastated" by those accusations.

Tareq Salahi, making his first television appearance since the dinner that President Obama hosted for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, insisted in an interview on NBC's "Today" that the couple was cooperating with a Secret Service investigation of the matter and "the truth will come out."

Salahi, maintaining that, for his wife, Michaele, the experience had been "the most devastating thing that has ever happened," said today: "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."

Insisting that there is more to the story of their appearance at Obama's first state dinner, Salahi maintained that the explanation will exonerate the couple from any allegations of misconduct.

"We were invited, not crashers," Michaele Salahi said, "and there isn't anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that. No one would do that and certainly not us."

Tareq Salahi, maintaining that he had e-mails that support his claim, said, "I am certain we will be completely exonerated."

The e-mails are "clear to us," he said in the "Today" interview from the couple's home. "Based on the timeline, I think the American public is actually going to be extremely surprised with all the details that went from beginning to end into what was supposed to be a lovely, beautiful evening -- a lifetime memory."

"A lifetime memory," his wife echoed.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a televised interview this morning that there was no way to view this incident other than as an unauthorized intrusion.

"This wasn't a misunderstanding," Gibbs said in an interview aired by MSNBC this morning. "You don't show up at the White House as a misunderstanding."

The White House says the Secret Service is investigating what happened at the dinner, where two people who were not formally invited managed to make the rounds, shake the president's hand in a receiving line and pose for photographs with Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"I think the president really had the same reaction the Secret Service had," Gibbs said of Obama's response, "and that was great concern for how something like this happened."

As members of Congress call for an investigation and with a House Homeland Security Committee hearing scheduled this week, Salahi maintains that he and his wife are "shocked and devastated" by the portrayals of them as gate crashers.

"No question," said Salahi, characterizing himself as a great admirer of the president. "It's been devastating what's happened to Michaele and I. ... Our lives have really been destroyed."

Tareq Salahi said he and his wife have been "very candid" with the Secret Service and "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."

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