Salahis, Desiree Rogers won't testify at White House security hearing

ROGERS WON'T TESTIFY: Rep. Bennie Thompson says Desirée Rogers is
ROGERS WON'T TESTIFY: Rep. Bennie Thompson says Desirée Rogers is "really not important in the security protocols we're looking at. Security is the responsibility of the Secret Service." (Haraz N. Ghanbari/associated Press)
By Wil Haygood, Jason Horowitz and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 3, 2009

The White House tried to put the whole Salahi incident to rest Wednesday night.

And on Thursday morning, Bennie Thompson will stir it all up again.

Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will hold a hearing to get, he says, at the truth of what happened. He hopes to help settle the nerves of a nation rattled by the ease with which an apparently uninvited couple breached layers of security, breezed into the White House and shook President Obama's hand at a state dinner last week.

But Thompson's hearing is also making White House officials nervous.

They have refused to make social secretary Desirée Rogers available for the inquiry and, with a memo acknowledging that administration staff had contributed to the security breach, they have sought to put an end to the matter and make the hearings old news by the time they start.

With Tareq and Michaele Salahi declining Wednesday night an invitation to testify before the committee about their unexpected appearance at the White House, it is up to Thompson to decide where the inquiry will go.

"I mean, they walked in right off the street!" Thompson (D-Miss.) said of the Salahis.

Sitting in his spacious Capitol Hill office, Thompson was quick to point out that he's heard concern from as many whites as blacks about the president's safety. But as the first African American to chair the committee, he said he has sensed heightened concern among the African Americans who already feared for the president's safety given the historic nature of his position and the country's racially charged past.

"Joe Madison's been all over the story," Thompson said of the popular radio host.

"I've personally heard this worry," said Thompson, whose committee was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks upon the United States.

"The symbolism with this being the first African American president is huge, and along with that comes concern for his safety. What did he get? Must have been 96 percent of the African American vote."

Thompson was appalled at the security breach. "Couldn't believe it," he admitted. "I mean, I felt that something like this just couldn't happen. Especially given my own personal experiences of going to the White House." He went on: "This vulnerability is now known to the world. What if this had been a terrorist?"

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