The most surreal moment from a surreal incident. The breach isn’t quite as dire as it seems — Marc Ambinder notes that sensitive radiological and biological sensors are deployed around the perimeter of the White House to make sure nothing anthrax-y gets in — but it’s true that the only thing standing between an intruder with a makeshift weapon and the VIPs in attendance is the quick reaction of the Secret Service. In this case, that reaction would have needed to be awfully quick: Just within the past hour, the White House admitted that the couple came face to face with The One himself.
A Secret Service officer stationed at the first checkpoint at the White House state dinner last Tuesday did not verify the names of a couple allowed in even though they were not on the guest list, a senior law enforcement official told NBC News on Friday.
The officer saw that Tareq and Michaele Salahi were not on the list and, rather than verifying if they were legitimate guests, assumed they would be vetted at the next checkpoint and allowed them to pass, NBC learned.
The source also confirmed what two White House staff sources earlier told NBC News, that the Salahis were not “waved in” or had their names manually entered into the White House computer to gain entry.
An amazing lapse, but even more amazing when you consider that a Service checkpoint stationed outside the White House, where guests’ cars pulled up to the entrance, reportedly did notice that they weren’t on the list and turned them away. Apparently, they simply got out of the car and went around to a pedestrian entrance, where the fateful error occurred. As for how they ended up being announced at the dinner, follow that last link: It sounds like, once you’re inside, all you have to do is write your name on a card and hand it to the emcee. Voila. Instant video magic, my friends.
It’s been reported that the winery owes an unspecified amount in federal back taxes (just one of many unpaid debts, allegedly), which may offer a clue as to why the couple was so intent on having their pics taken with Rahm and Biden. Was it pleasure, or business?
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees charitable operations in the commonwealth, issued a consumer warning earlier this year against the “Journey for a Cure Foundation,” of which the Salahis are listed as co-founders, the Fauquier-Times Democrat reported. The state regulatory and watchdog agency reportedly claimed that the foundation was soliciting money from Virginians for “allegedly charitable purposes,” but had failed to follow laws requiring groups soliciting money for charity to register and file necessary paperwork with the department.
The couple’s socialite friends also are starting to question the couple’s motives and actions…
Tareq even used photos of luminaries attending the Courage Cup to market his new America’s Cup [polo] event.
Salahi’s polo connections — and possible financial problems — also might hold the key to why the couple risked the wrath of the Secret Service to stroll brazenly in front of news cameras to rub elbows with nearly 300 hand-picked guests that included members of the Indian diplomatic corps and other special guests with connections to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Salahi’s polo club along with the Embassy of India is hosting a spring 2010 tournament in Virginia. U.S. Ambassador to India Meera Shankar is listed as a patron, according to the organization’s Web site.
Look on the bright side: For once, Geithner wasn’t the only guy inside the White House with a tax problem. Besides, this is going to inspire some sweet movies over the next few years. As a premise for the long-awaited sequel to “The Wedding Crashers,” it simply can’t be topped. Or what about an update of “Air Force One” in which well-dressed terrorists infiltrate a dinner being hosted in honor of the president of China and take everyone hostage, thereby necessitating some serious Die-Hard-esque ass-kicking by the U.S. and Chinese presidents? If you’re looking for another vehicle for Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan to co-star in, you’ve found it.
Update: Obama’s now ordered a full review of how the breach happened.
Update: Actually, I was wrong: This is the most surreal moment. Simply unbelievable. It’s time to clean house at the Secret Service.