By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009
A congressional committee approved on Wednesday a motion to subpoena the fame-seeking Virginia couple who slipped past layers of security to shake President Obama's hand last month at the White House state dinner.
The House Committee on Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service and is planning a Jan. 20 hearing into the state dinner breach, voted 26 to 3 to bring Tareq Salahi before the panel, and 27 to 2 to subpoena his wife, Michaele.
The committee then defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to force White House social secretary Desirée Rogers to testify.
King argued, as he has for weeks, that the hearing would be incomplete without a fuller accounting of why Rogers decided to "change years of policy," as King put it, and leave the Secret Service to solely take control of the guest list at security checkpoints on Nov. 24, the night of the party. He argued that the change in procedure, which the White House has already said won't happen again, precipitated the security breakdown.
King also said that he and fellow Republicans on the committee had reached out to the White House to express their openness to an "alternative method" for Rogers to tell her story privately but had been shot down.
The committee then did the same to King's amendment, with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), who has emerged as the committee's most vocal protector of Rogers, successfully arguing that King's amendment was not germane to the committee's hearing. The members then rejected the amendment, 17 to 12.
"White House security is a function of the Secret Service," said Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in an interview during a break in the proceedings. "And you can't move the responsibility of security to an entity that is responsible for providing a guest list."
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan accepted blame in his testimony before the committee last week, and leading Democrats on the panel shielded Rogers from a subpoena, so the committee turned its focus wholly on the Salahis.
But the couple won't have much to say.
The Salahis' attorneys have said they will invoke the Fifth Amendment because they don't believe a fair hearing is possible in Thompson's committee. In Wednesday's hearing, Thompson said those arguments were "irrelevant and have no bearing" on the committee's oversight duties.
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.) found the whole hearing irrelevant.
"This is so trivial," he said after the hearing, in which he voted against subpoenaing the Salahis and Rogers. "We should get back to things that are important to the country."