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E-mails suggest confusion over state dinner invitation

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.

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By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An e-mail exchange released by lawyers for the Northern Virginia couple who showed up apparently uninvited at last week's state dinner show that a Pentagon official offered some hope she'd at least try to get them into the White House, NBC News reported Tuesday night.

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But the e-mails, as described by NBC, also point to misunderstandings and crossed signals, with the couple missing messages from the official telling them she couldn't help. In the end, an e-mail from Tareq Salahi suggests he and his wife, Michaele, went to the White House unsure whether they were invited, yet somehow got in.

How the Salahis were admitted despite not being on any official list remains under investigation. Their lawyers released the e-mails to NBC to make the case that the aspiring reality-TV stars did not "crash" or willfully trespass. But the e-mails also contradict the Salahis' claim -- made earlier Tuesday on NBC's "Today" -- that they "were invited."

The e-mails show that Michele S. Jones, special assistant to the secretary of defense and White House liaison, told the Salahis that the dinner was closed. But she offered to try to get them into the "arrival ceremony," presumably the daytime ceremony that kicks off a foreign leader's visit, often attended by several hundred people. The couple's lawyers told NBC that the Salahis thought this meant the dinner's receiving line.

The lawyers also told NBC that the Salahis say Jones called them the night before the dinner to say they were cleared for the receiving line. In the morning, Jones e-mailed to say that the arrival ceremony was canceled -- rain forced it inside -- but that she was still working on the state dinner. But later that day, lawyers claim, Jones left the Salahis a voice mail saying she had had no luck; but the couple, already in Washington, never got the message.

Tareq Salahi's next e-mail to Jones was a thank-you at night's end: "We ended up going to the gate to just check, in case it got approved, since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list." Jones's response: "Tareq you are most welcome. Delighted that you and Michaele had a wonderful time:)."

An administration official said Tuesday night that the e-mails support Jones's denial Monday that she told the couple she could get them in. "All Ms. Jones tells them is she is trying," the official said. "She never tells them yes and even leaves them a voice mail the day of saying, sorry, but it didn't happen." The Salahis, meanwhile, still can't point to "an e-mail actually inviting them."

As for Jones's final blithe note, the official said, she "responded that way to be polite," assuming the Salahis got tickets some other way.

Staff writers Michael D. Shear, Spencer S. Hsu and Lisa de Moraes contributed to this report.


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