Salahi e-mails show 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
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

E-mails turned over to the Secret Service show that Tareq and Michaele Salahi had sought a top Defense Department official's help to gain access to last week's White House state dinner.

People familiar with the inquiry into how the Salahis were able to attend Tuesday's gala, even though they weren't on the official guest list, said the Salahis exchanged e-mails with Michele S. Jones, special assistant to the secretary of defense and the Pentagon-based liaison to the White House. It was unclear how well the Salahis know Jones, but Jones includes the Salahis' lawyer, Paul W. Gardner, as one of her 50 friends on Facebook.

Several people familiar with the Jones-Salahi correspondence, including some who requested anonymity because it's part of an ongoing investigation, said 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 did not receive an invitation to the dinner honoring the Indian prime minister, 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.

"There's a possible criminal investigation on the Salahis," Gardner said when reached by phone. "I can't comment."

The Salahis will be interviewed Tuesday morning on NBC's "Today" show, the network said Monday evening.

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