3 Secret Service officers placed on leave

Lawmaker says subpoenas likely in gate-crashing

Mark Sullivan, Secret Service director, testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about the security breach. Mark Sullivan, Secret Service director, testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about the security breach. (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)
By Eileen Sullivan
Associated Press / December 4, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The head of the Secret Service asserted yesterday that the security breach at last week’s White House state dinner was an aberration, but has put three uniformed officers on leave.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Bennie G. Thompson, said the country is “fortunate that this diplomatic celebration did not become a night of horror.’’

President Obama, however, said that even though “the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to’’ last week, he “could not have more confidence in the Secret Service.’’

Appearing before Thompson’s panel for questioning, Mark Sullivan acknowledged that his officers made mistakes and that the Secret Service must have a “100 percent’’ performance record.

Thompson also said Congress needs to talk not only to Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who got in without invitations, but also to Desiree Rogers, White House social secretary. All three have declined to appear.

The Salahis believe “there is nothing further that they can do to assist Congress in its inquiry regarding White House protocol and certain security procedures,’’ a statement from their publicist said. “They therefore respectfully decline to testify.’’

Thompson said he is likely to authorize a subpoena for the Salahis to testify, and said they could be cited for contempt of Congress if they refuse to comply. The Salahis have been trying to land a part on a Bravo reality show, “The Real Housewives of DC,’’ and were filmed by the TV show around town as they prepared for the White House dinner.

As for Rogers, Representative Peter King, the panel’s ranking Republican, accused the White House of “stonewalling’’ in not permitting her to testify. The New York congressman said he thinks the White House is either afraid of something or doesn’t want to take any heat for last week’s incident.

A senior White House aide, Valerie Jarrett, defended Rogers’s refusal to appear, saying executive staff members have been allowed to testify to Congress only in rare circumstances. Jarrett said on ABC’s “Good Morning America’’ that there was no need for Rogers to attend the hearing and answer questions because “we think we’ve really answered the questions fully.’’

The White House has changed its policy, requiring that someone from the social secretary’s office to be at checkpoints to help the Secret Service if questions arise.

Asked what went wrong, Sullivan acknowledged that “proper procedures were not followed.’’ “Pure and simple, this was human error,’’ he added.

The Secret Service chief said the investigation so far has found three people from the agency’s uniformed officer division responsible for the security breach, and all three have been put on administrative leave.