Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Virginia’s state government wants to speak to Tareq Salahi, the man who crashed a White House state dinner but who also serves on a state tourism board and is known personally by the state’s governor as a champion self-promoter.

“If somebody had said to me, ‘Hey, someone in Virginia is trying to crash a party.’ There are 7 1/2 million Virginians, who do you think it might be? I think I might have been able to guess in about five seconds,” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Tuesday.

Mr. Kaine, who also is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he has known Mr. Salahi and his wife, Michaela, for years, and even appointed Mr. Salahi to the 15-member Virginia Tourism Corporation board in 2006 at their request.

When asked why he would immediately think of the Salahis, Mr. Kaine said, “because he is such a promoter and I’ll just kind of leave it there.”

“They’re big personalities and they’re big self-promoters. You don’t have to know them about five minutes before you realize that,” he said.

But when asked about the couple’s possibly breaching White House security to attend last week’s dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without an invitation, Mr. Kaine said it wasn’t something to be taken lightly.

“I think it is a very serious issue,” Mr. Kaine said, adding that he has asked Katherine K. Hanley, secretary of the commonwealth, to talk with Mr. Salahi about the incident but he would not comment on whether the Salahis’ activities would end Mr. Salahi’s stint on the state’s tourism board.

“Any allegations that someone has breached security protocol going to an event even a social event without permission is serious. We’re following the investigation with interest,” Mr. Kaine said.

Meanwhile, the couple said they were invited to the exclusive event and they are cooperating with the Secret Service investigation.

“We were invited, not crashers,” Mrs. Salahi told host Matt Lauer on the NBC “Today” show Tuesday. “There isn’t anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that.”

When asked who invited them, the couple declined to say.

“One of the things that we’re doing is we’re working closely with the Secret Service in their internal investigation,” Mr. Salahi said.

“We’ve been very candid with them. We’ve turned over documentation to them. And we’ll continue to work with the U.S. Secret Service completely all the way through this process,” Mr. Salahi said.

The Associated Press reported that the couple communicated with Michele Jones, an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, about attending the event, but Miss Jones denied that she obtained an invitation for the Salahis.

“They had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner,” Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman also told the “Today” show.

In an e-mail sent just hours after last week’s dinner to Ms. Jones, the Salahis claimed a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing Ms. Jones’ voice mail earlier that day advising them they did not make the guest list.

A collection of e-mails between the Salahis and Ms. Jones was obtained Tuesday night by AP from a source who got them in a manner that confirmed their authenticity.

While the Salahis are cooperating with the Secret Service, the couple has not said whether they will cooperate with a congressional inquiry and appear before the House Homeland Security Committee, where they have been called to testify on Thursday morning.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, who admits his agency erred by allowing the couple into the dinner, will testify before the committee. White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers has also been called before the committee to explain why her staff was not monitoring the door with the Secret Service during the event.

Both the Secret Service and the White House are reviewing the incident.

“We’ll look at our procedures within the White House and do anything humanly possible to make sure that something like this never happens again,” Mr. Gibbs said. Mr. Salahi has a long history with Virginia state government, having been appointed by Govs. James Gilmore and Mark Warner to serve consecutive terms on the state’s wine board before Mr. Kaine picked the Fauquier County vintner for the tourism board.

The governor has met the couple repeatedly over the years including at an event in London for Virginia tourism. Mr. Kaine said Tuesday that he last saw the couple at the Congressional Black Caucus Dinner after not seeing them for about a year, running into them near the exit as he was leaving. He said he had not heard that the couple had reportedly crashed the CBC dinner as well.

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