White House gatecrashers won't talk to Congress

The couple who gatecrashed a White House state dinner for India’s prime minister will invoke their right to silence if they are made to appear before the US Congress over the security breach.

Reality TV hopefuls Michaele and Tareq Salahi said through their lawyer that the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee had drawn premature conclusions about the November 24 incident, when they were able to get into the state dinner without being on an approved guest list.

The committee will vote today to subpoena the couple to give evidence.

In a letter, the Salahis’ lawyer, Stephen Best, gave examples of what he said were the committee’s premature conclusions.

He cited District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s characterisation of the Salahis on November 30 as “practised con artists”.

Mr Best also said chairman Bennie Thompson’s chief oversight counsel told the Salahis’ lawyers that if the couple did not testify at the original December 3 hearing, they would be viewed as modern-day versions of “Bonnie and Clyde”.

“It is circumstances such as these for which the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution was designed to provide safe harbour,” Mr Best said.

The Fifth Amendment dictates the government cannot force an American to incriminate himself.

The Secret Service is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the security breach. Charges have yet to be referred for prosecution.

The committee’s top Republican, New York’s Peter King, said he planned to ask Mr Thompson to amend his subpoena to include White House social secretary Desiree Rogers.

Mr King had hoped Ms Rogers would give evidence at the December 3 hearing, but neither she nor the Salahis turned up.

The Secret Service and the White House social office developed the security plan for the state dinner honouring Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. Democrat Mr Thompson is reluctant to subpoena Ms Rogers – an Obama political appointee – because he maintains the Secret Service is responsible for security.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs cited the separation of powers and a history of White House staff not giving evidence before Congress in explaining why Ms Rogers, herself a guest at the dinner, would not testify.

Three Secret Service officers have been put on administrative leave after the security breach.

President Barack Obama acknowledged that the system did not work as it should have, but said the episode had not shaken his confidence in his protectors.

Secret Service director Mark Sullivan has said that the security breach is his agency’s fault, but the president was never at risk.

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