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The party crashers: Turmoil in the White House

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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The Pentagon official's eagerness to assist the Salahis is evident in subsequent e-mails. She expressed confidence about getting the couple into an "Arrival Ceremony" for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though she didn't give up on delivering the dinner. At 11 a.m. on Nov. 23, Tareq wrote Jones asking, "Do you know what time we would need to be there?" Later that afternoon, Jones replied that she had no tickets to the dinner, but assured the couple, "they do have your information in the event that extra tickets become available."

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At 8:46 on the morning of the dinner, Jones sent an e-mail to Tareq explaining that bad weather had forced the closing of the arrival ceremony. "They are having a very small one inside the WH very limited space," she wrote. "I am still working on tickets for tonight's dinner."

"It is clear that there was misunderstanding about the arrival ceremony," said Stephen Best, the couple's attorney, with the Dewey & LeBoeuf law firm. "It was always understood by the Salahis that the arrival ceremony was part and parcel to the state dinner and at no point do the e-mails do anything to dispel this misunderstanding."

At 10 a.m., a black stretch Lincoln Navigator SUV chartered from Royale Coach and Limousine arrived to pick up the Salahis at their Virginia home. A few hours later, the Salahis finally boarded the SUV, where the driver, J.C. Mitchell, asked the couple if they "had everything they needed," Mitchell recalled in an interview.

The driver then took them to the Erwin Gomez salon at around 1:30, parked nearby and waited.

The couple, followed by an entourage of television cameras shooting for the Bravo reality show, made a grand entrance to the Georgetown salon. The appointment -- a makeup, blow-out and sari-fitting session -- lasted six hours and cost $230.42.

Michaele fluttered around the salon and pecked Gomez six times before taking a chair. When the stylist asked her how she scored the coveted invite, she exclaimed, "I'm just so blessed."

Members of the Homeland Security Committee would like to know what else she said at the salon and, according to committee staff, held conference calls on Dec. 11 and 15 with B. Robert Okun, vice president of NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, to discuss seeing roughly four hours of footage shot of the Salahis on Nov. 24. According to committee staffers, the video could be viewed as early as Tuesday.

"We're declining comment because it's an ongoing investigation," said Cameron Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal who oversees communications for Bravo.

Abby Greensfelder, the owner of Half Yard Productions, said the couple unequivocally portrayed themselves as state dinner invitees.

"We took them at their word and filmed their preparations for the event," said Greensfelder. "Half Yard Productions had no part in planning their presence at the event."

At around 6 p.m., the Salahis and five members of a camera crew from Half Yard Productions got into the limo, which remained parked in front of the salon as they shot about a half-hour of footage. At that point it had come to all the passengers' knowledge, according to Mitchell, that they might not have their invitation.


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