White House letter to Homeland Security Committee denies contact with Salahis

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 24, 2009

House Homeland Security Committee staffers on Wednesday viewed footage of Tareq and Michaele Salahi preparing for their night out at the Obama administration's first state dinner. With reality-television cameras rolling, Michaele claimed she had called social secretary Desirée Rogers to determine whether the Indian dress Michaele planned to wear that night was appropriate.

One committee staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing, said that the video, shot for a potential Bravo reality series, was screened in Washington by B. Robert Okun, vice president of NBC Universal. According to the staffer who viewed the tape, Michaele says that representatives of the social secretary's office responded directly to Michaele that "they thought the sari was a great idea."

Michaele also claimed to have been in contact with Rogers's office as recently as the day before the dinner, according to the committee staffer.

This is the first time the allegations, previously aired by a friend of the Salahis on "Larry King Live," have been attributed to Michaele herself. The footage is likely to renew calls among Republicans on the committee to subpoena Rogers, though the White House has consistently said that she will not testify.

"To me the Salahis have no credibility anyway, but we still have to track it down," said Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), the leading Republican on the committee. King was likewise unsatisfied by a letter the Obama administration sent on Wednesday to the committee, asserting that there was no evidence that the Salahis received any encouragement to come to the White House.

In the letter, Daniel J. Meltzer, the principal deputy counsel to the president, writes: "We recognize that some questions remain about what transpired, and we want to set the record straight."

"We have found no evidence the Salahis were included on any White House access list or guest list," Meltzer says in the letter. "The Salahis were not on the lists for the State Dinner, the Arrival Ceremony, or any other event scheduled for November 24. Indeed there is no record of the Salahis in the White House visitor access system since the beginning of the Obama Administration. Moreover, we have found no evidence that the Salahis called the White House and asked about the proper dress code for the State Dinner."

The letter "answers none of the questions we had," said King.

Stephen Best, an attorney for the Salahis, said that Michaele's version of events about the Indian dress was consistent with what his client had told him all along.

According to the committee staffer, Michaele also claims in the video footage that "the invitation just came in to us -- first it was a phone call, then we received the invitation in the mail." That appears to undercut the Salahis' argument that a string of e-mails with a Pentagon official led them to believe they were invited to the event.

"If Bravo releases the Salahis from their non-disclosure agreement, I can comment on it," said Best.

Cameron Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal, declined to comment.

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