Salahi e-mails say couple asked Defense official about attending state dinner

Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a couple from Northern Virginia, are at the center of a controversy after they gained admission, uninvited, to a White House state dinner on Nov. 24, 2009.
By Michael D. Shear and Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009; 6:16 PM

A top Defense Department official corresponded with Tareq and Michaele Salahi in an effort to get them into last week's White House state dinner, according to sources familiar with an investigation into the security breach. On Friday the couple turned over copies of the email exchange to the Secret Service investigators.

Sources said the e-mails were sent from Michele S. Jones, the special assistant to the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon-based liaison to the White House, who lists the Salahis' lawyer, Paul W. Gardner, as one of her 50 friends on the Facebook social networking site.

Several people familiar with the Jones-Salahi correspondence argued the e-mails support the Salahis' case that they were cleared to attend Tuesday night's gala.

"There was e-mail correspondence confirming they were legitimately supposed to be there," said Casey Margenau, a close friend of the couple. "They understood they were invited."

"I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening's events," Jones said in a statement released by the White House late Monday. "I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

Reached by phone at her office at the Pentagon early in the day and asked about the e-mails, Jones said, "I am not going to say anything at this point at all. Oh, my goodness."

Asked how she knows the Salahis and why she would have tried to get them into the White House, she said, "I am not going to say anything at this point at all. In fact, I am going to terminate the call right now because I am not sure what in the world is going on here."

White House and Secret Service officials have insisted that the Salahis received no invitation to the dinner honoring the prime minister of India, and were never officially cleared by anyone in the White House to be there. A White House aide added that Jones had no authority to grant such access in the first place. The Secret Service has apologized for lax procedures that allowed the Virginia couple to get through two checkpoints.

The e-mails apparently do not contradict that version of events, but are described as having given the Salahis the confidence to get dressed up, mingle with some of the most powerful Washington players, and post snapshots of their presence at the party on their Facebook page.

The e-mail exchange is said to include assurances from Jones that she was trying to score an official invitation, complete with seats at the dinner, for the couple. By the time they arrived in line, the couple believed that Jones had succeeded in getting them approved only for the cocktail reception and a handshake with the president, sources said.

The House Homeland Security Committee on Monday invited the Salahis and the Secret Service to testify for a Thursday hearing about the security lapse. Neither the Salahis nor the investigators have confirmed they will attend. "The investigation is ongoing," said Malcolm Wiley, spokesman for the Secret Service. "We don't have anything we are ready to release. We hope to have some additional information soon." The Salahis have declined to comment through their publicist and attorney, amid reports that they had been seeking payments from media organizations to tell their story.

The publicist, Mahogany Jones, denied that in a statement today, saying that the couple is not seeking to make money from the incident.

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