Let’s say you had a well-connected buddy who was trying to get you into the hottest party of the year. It wasn’t going to be easy, but she assured you she’d keep pursuing it — and she even requested all of your personal information, including your Social Security number, so you could get cleared by security before the big event.
E-mail messages released to TODAY reveal that something along those lines happened in the mysterious case of the White House party crashers.
One of the alleged crashers — Tareq Salahi, 41, of northern Virginia — exchanged e-mails and phone calls over a period of four days with a high-ranking Pentagon official about the possibility of attending at least part of President Barack Obama’s first state dinner.
“Thank you!!!” Salahi wrote after being asked to provide information for the background check. “We are really looking forward to it.”
The official — Michele Jones, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a White House liaison — said she was trying to get Salahi and his wife, Michaele Salahi, access to an “arrival ceremony” tied to the state dinner.
“Hopefully I can get tickets for the Arrival Ceremony,” Jones wrote to Tareq Salahi on Nov. 20. “The State Dinner is completely closed and has been for awhile. As soon as I know, I will contact you.”
Salahi replied three minutes later with another note of gratitude.
“Hi Michele. Thank you for this. ... We are honored to take part of the Arrival Ceremony.”
Ever since the party crasher story began mushrooming over the holiday weekend, the Salahis have been under an intense media spotlight. Much of the focus has been on whether the Salahis had a formal, confirmed invitation to the state dinner — and if they didn’t, how they were able to make their way inside and hobnob with some of the most powerful people on the planet.
Slideshow: Guests, glitz at White House dinner The answer to the question of whether they had a confirmed invitation is simple: No.
But could the Salahis have felt justified showing up at the White House that night to attend part of the festivities? Maybe.
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As far as they knew, their fate was still up for debate as late as last Tuesday, the day of the state dinner.
“The arrival ceremony (was scheduled to be outdoors) was canceled due to inclement weather,” Jones e-mailed at 8:46 a.m. that day. “They are having a very small one inside the WH very limited space. I am still working on tickets for tonight's dinner. I will call or e-mail as soon as I get word one way or another.”
The e-mail record indicates that Tareq Salahi thought it made sense for him to attend an event honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Salahi’s e-mail signature describes him as the United States Team Captain for America’s Polo Cup and touts “India vs. USA — World Cup 2010,” an event to be hosted in Washington, D.C., next June.
Paul Gardner, an attorney for America’s Polo Cup, played a role in trying to get the Salahis access to the state dinner. Gardner’s name also comes up in the e-mail exchanges.
The Salahis’ attorneys released the e-mail messages to TODAY to shed light on their clients’ side of the story. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told TODAY that the Salahi matter was being looked into “criminally.”
IDs checked three times
For her part, Jones tried to call the Salahis later on the day of the state dinner to let them Video: Biden on photo with Salahis know that she wasn’t able to get tickets for them after all. Tareq Salahi said his cell-phone battery died and he never got Jones’ message.
That night the Salahis showed up at the White House, where they said they stood in line at multiple security checkpoints. They said they showed their passports to three Secret Service agents, who compared the Salahis’ IDs against their own paperwork. After the security checks, the Salahis were allowed to enter the party, mingle and have photos taken with the president and vice president.
“I just assumed, like everyone else, that they were guests. They acted like they knew everyone in the room,” Vice President Joe Biden told TODAY co-anchor Meredith Vieira Wednesday morning.
Biden said he didn’t know the couple, and didn’t remember having a photo taken with them until he saw it later during news coverage of the incident.
“I just assumed they were part of the social fabric of Washington, but I didn’t know who they were until I saw them on the television.”
The Salahis didn’t stay for the dinner; instead, they drove back home. That’s when Tareq Salahi said he plugged in his cell phone and heard Jones’ message. He promptly hopped online and sent Jones the following e-mail message at 1:03 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25:
You are an Angel!
My cell phone battery died early this evening while we were in DC from our country home, so I just got your message now after driving back out. But obviously it worked out at the end. ... We ended up going to the gate to check in at 6:30 p.m. to just check, in case it got approved since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list! :-) We are very grateful, and God Bless you.
We just got home, and we had a very wonderful evening as you can imagine!
Look forward to seeing you very soon. Say when for dinner — we can't wait to see you and catch up and share memories of a true lifetime.
Tareq & Michaele Salahi
A cheery reply
In the wake of the party crasher scandal, Jones has had to explain her e-mail exchanges with the Salahis.
“I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening’s events,” Jones said in a statement released Monday by the White House. “I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening’s activities. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come.”
Her reply to Salahi’s 1:03 a.m. message struck a different — and much more friendly — tone. The White House said Jones responded with warmth to be polite, noting she assumed the couple must have obtained tickets in some other way.
Jones sent this message to Salahi at 1:38 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25:
You are most welcome! I here [sic] the smile in your e-mail and am delighted that you and Michaele had a wonderful time. :-)
Have an extraordinary Thanksgiving and many blessings to you both!
Did they commit a crime?
The Salahi flap has been deemed so serious that it will be the subject of a congressional hearing on Thursday. The White House announced Wednesday that its social secretary, Desiree Rogers, will not testify at the hearing, even though she had been invited to do so. In explaining that decision, press secretary Gibbs cited concerns over separation of powers.
On Wednesday morning, TODAY co-anchor Matt Lauer discussed the Salahis’ e-mails with Dan Abrams, NBC’s chief legal analyst.
“Even if they didn’t think they could stay for the dinner, the fact that they showed up not sure: Is it a crime?” Lauer asked.
“Absolutely not,” Abrams replied. “The real question is going to be: Did they lie? When they were standing on line, when they were then asked questions, when they gave their passports, etc., did they say anything that wasn’t true? If they didn’t, I don’t think they’re going to be charged with any sort of crime.
“This may be a social crime — meaning showing up to an event where you’re not clearly invited, at the White House. Sure, maybe social, but not criminal.”
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