U.S. grand jury convened, apparently in connection with White House state dinner

In this Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 file photo, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, right, arrive at a State Dinner hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington. A federal grand jury has convened to investigate whether fraudulent statements were made to government officials, apparently in the probe of how a Virginia couple got into a White House state dinner without an invitation. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 file photo, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, right, arrive at a State Dinner hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington. A federal grand jury has convened to investigate whether fraudulent statements were made to government officials, apparently in the probe of how a Virginia couple got into a White House state dinner without an invitation. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file) (Gerald Herbert - AP)

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By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010

A federal grand jury has been convened to investigate whether false or fraudulent statements were made to the government, apparently in the matter of how Tareq and Michaele Salahi got into the Nov. 24 White House state dinner uninvited, The Washington Post has learned.

Two witnesses to the activities of the Northern Virginia socialites on that day received subpoenas Friday to testify in U.S. District Court next week.

The subpoenas arrived as mystery deepened over the circumstances of how a third person also managed to get into the dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without being on the guest list. Newly discovered photos posted online by a guest showed Carlos Allen -- the subject of another federal probe -- sitting at a prime table with a U.S. ambassador, a top Indian executive and a White House staffer.

White House and Secret Service officials declined to answer questions about the photos, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

A grand jury seems to signal that federal authorities are taking the state dinner incursions seriously and that their investigation has moved to a new stage: taking testimony from witnesses. But it doesn't mean any criminal charges will result. The witnesses in the Salahi matter are Erwin Gomez and Peggy Ioakim, two stylists with the Erwin Gomez Salon and Spa in Georgetown, where the couple -- surrounded by several producers and crew members with Bravo's "Real Housewives of D.C." -- spent hours being groomed before the dinner. Gomez and Ioakim are scheduled to testify Tuesday.

"They're going to show up and tell the truth and the facts of what they know occurred during the time a lot of production was going on at the salon," said James Packard-Gomez, the salon's chief executive. "I feel it's our duty to be there."

Stephen Best, the attorney for the Salahis, said he did not know if his clients had been subpoenaed. "I have not seen any documentation to confirm there is, indeed, a grand jury investigation underway," he said.

Channing Phillips, the acting U.S. attorney for the District, declined to comment.

The congressional committee that's also investigating the Salahi matter voted last month to subpoena the couple. They issued a statement saying they would plead the Fifth Amendment.

The photos of Allen confirm his lawyer's statement that the aspiring Web publisher stayed for the dinner -- unlike the Salahis, who left after cocktail mingling. The Secret Service says Allen was not on the guest list. Allen, like the Salahis, has maintained that he was invited.

The Secret Service -- which on Monday disclosed it was investigating the presence of a third uninvited guest at the dinner -- declined to comment because it has not publicly confirmed the identity of the individual. Other government sources, as well as Allen's lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, told The Post that man was Allen.

The existence of the photos was first reported Thursday night by Politico. The Post examined the gallery posted on a public photo-sharing site by Barbara Thummalapally, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Belize, Vinai Thummalapally. Both of the Thummalapallys -- old college pals of the president's -- are shown sitting at the same table as Allen.


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