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Attorneys for Tareq and Michaele Salahi provided TODAY with e-mail messages their clients exchanged leading up to and immediately following the White House state dinner. Contact information for the parties involved has been redacted.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 12/2/2009 2:57:48 PM ET 2009-12-02T19:57:48

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.”

Understandably confused?
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:

Hi Michele,

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.

With Love,

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:

Tareq,

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!

Much love,

Michele

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.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Salahis: Pentagon e-mails clear our name

  1. Closed captioning of: Salahis: Pentagon e-mails clear our name

    >>> ahead.

    >>> but let's begin about those e-mails between a virginia couple and a pentagon official that led up to last week's state dinner at the white house . nbc 's savannah guthrie has the latest on this. good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. those e-mails show a defense department official did correspond with the couple trying to help them get into the state dinner , but this official later called them and said she couldn't get them tickets, a message the couple says they didn't receive until after they had already shown up at the dinner. one week after making their now famous entrance onto the national stage, tareq and michaele salahi arrived before dawn for their appearance on "today," telling matt this is all a big misunderstanding.

    >> we were invited, not crashers. and there isn't anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that.

    >> reporter: the salahis say they can prove why they thought they were invited guests to the white house on the night of the state dinner for the indian prime minister .

    >> i think the american public is actually going to be extremely surprised --

    >> that's what i was going to say.

    >> -- with all of the details.

    >> reporter: the salahis' lawyer supplied nbc news with e-mails between the couple and a white house liaison to the department of defense . michele jones , an obama appointee who spoke at the 2008 democratic convention , was acquainted with the salahis. the e-mails indicate jones initially tried to help the couple, telling them the state dinner was closed but suggesting she may be able to get them into the arrival ceremony, even asking the couple for their social security numbers and birth dates for the secret service background check . the salahis' lawyer say the couple thought the arrival ceremony jones mentioned referred to the arrivals or receiving line for the dinner, but the only arrival ceremony was scheduled for that morning. the salahis also claim michele jones called them the night before the dinner to say they were clear for the receiving line, which they thought was at the white house that night. the morning of the dinner, jones e-mailed, "the arrival ceremony was scheduled to be outdoors was canceled due to inclement weather. they are having a very small one inside the white house , very limited space. i am still working on tickets for tonight's dinner." later on tuesday, however, jones left a voice mail for the salahis, saying she couldn't get them tickets to the dinner. but spending the day at a georgetown salon, the salahis claim they never got the message. they showed up at the white house and got inside, they say after showing their passports three times. they mixed and mingled, even shaking the president's hand, and at the end of the night, mr. salahi e-mailed michele jones , a message suggesting the couple showed up unsure of whether they were really invited. "hi, michele , you are an angel! my cell phone battery died early this evening, so i just got your message now, but obviously, it worked out at the end. we ended up going to the gate to just check, in case it got approved, since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list. we can't wait to see you and catch up and share memories of a true lifetime." michele jones responded the next afternoon saying, "tareq, you are most welcome! i hear the smile in your e-mail and am delighted that you and michaele had a wonderful time." well, the white house says michele jones responded that way to be polite and because she simply assumed that they must have gotten tickets some other way, knowing that she hadn't been able to secure state dinner tickets. michele jones on monday morning released a statement. "i specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that i did not have the authority to authorize attendance, ad missance or access to any part of the evening's activities. even though i informed them of this, they still decided to come." and white house officials say the bottom line doesn't change here -- jones never said they had tickets, but there's no question, those e-mails show she did try to help.

    >> all right, savannah guthrie at the white house this morning, thank you. " washington post " reporter roxanne roberts broke the salahis' story. jack abrams is nbc 's legal analyst. good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> roxanne, you said i know these people from the reality tv world, what are they doing here? so, as you hear this story evolve and read some of these e-mails, do you have a clear picture of what might have happened?

    >> well, yeah, i think it's pretty clear that this still was a reality tv stunt. during the day when they were in the salon, everyone said, oh, aren't you excited about being invited? can i see the invitation? and michaele said, oh, it's in the car. you know, there's a clear pattern here that would appear that they knew that from the e-mails that there was very little chance that they were going to get in and they kind of bluffed their way through the day with everybody involved.

    >> i want to go to michele jones ' statement from yesterday, where she says, "i did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities." and yet, she says in an e-mail to the salahis, "i am still working on tickets for tonight's dinner." so, that's not what she's telling the salahis, is it?

    >> the whole thing is weird. first of all, you don't have tickets for a state dinner . you get an engraved invitation about a week in advance. you supply social security numbers and birth dates so they can clear you through background. and then you show up, and there are no tickets that you pass on. these people showed up, you know, sort of hoping that maybe they could figure out a way to get in, as if it were some sort of normal party that you could crash. that's not the white house . that's not a state dinner .

    >> dan, so, let's say the salahis believed that, in fact, michele jones was getting them into, or perhaps getting them into the arrival ceremony, and if they believed that meant the part where you walk through the white house and your name gets announced and you're arriving at the state dinner , even if they didn't think they could stay for the dinner, the fact that they showed up not sure, is it a crime?

    >> absolutely not. the real question's going to be, did they lie? when they were standing on line, when they were then asked questions, when they gave their passport, et cetera , 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, may be social, but not criminal.

    >> roxanne, i want your reaction to this. they go to the party, they mingle, they get past the three security checks, they mingle with the president, the vice president, all these dignitaries, and then they write michele jones that e-mail at about 1:00 in the morning, saying, hey, we had the time of our lives. you're an angel, all that sort of thing. our name was indeed on the list. god bless you. and then at 1:30 or so in the afternoon the next day she responds to them with this e-mail, "you are most welcome. i hear the smile in your e-mail. i am delighted that you and michaele had a wonderful time." "you are most welcome" says she's accepting their thanks and in some ways accepting credit. why didn't she say, "how did you get in?"

    >> well, that was my question, but i think that this is a case of a whole bunch of people sort of trying to finesse their way around an awkward situation. she didn't say, you know, don't go, don't show up, you can't be there, you can't get in, and they're not prepared to say, oh, guess what, we somehow managed to bluff our way in. everybody's being excessively polite and sort of covering their back sides, i think.

    >> is it a perfect storm , dan? we've got some people who clearly are interested in fame, like to hobnob. we've got perhaps some subtly inaccurate e-mails going back and forth, and we've got a complete collapse of three security checkpoints at the white house .

    >> well, that's the question is how did they make it past? meaning, how were their names on this list? and if they weren't, how did they get in? and that's going to be the fundamental question that we have to answer moving forward. again, did they lie? and if they didn't, how the heck did they get in?

    >> but at the moment, you don't think it's a crime.

    >> as long as they didn't lie, i don't think there's going to be any criminal charges .

    >> dan abrams , roxanne roberts , thanks to both of you. i appreciate it.

    >> all right, matt.

    >> by the way, you can read the e-mail exchange at the center of this story at our website, todayshow.com.

    >>> let's get a check of

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