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Salahis: ‘We were invited, not crashers’

The most infamous party crashers in the world said Tuesday that they hate that label, denied they finagled their way into a White House state dinner and insisted that they were invited to the bash by a Washington law firm with ties to a senior Pentagon official.

“This has been the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to us,” Tareq Salahi, along with his wife Michaele, told Matt Lauer in the couple’s first television interview. “We’re greatly saddened by all the circumstances that have been involved in portraying my wife and I as party crashers. I can tell you we did not party crash the White House.”

The couple said they are reeling from the media attention. “Our lives have been destroyed, everything we’ve worked for, Matt,” Michaele Salahi said. “For me, 44 years, just destroyed.”

When asked point-blank whether or not they had been explicitly invited to the White House state dinner, Michaele answered that there was no ambiguity about the situation.

“We were invited, not crashers,” she said. “There isn’t anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that … certainly not us.”

The couple’s appearance on TODAY comes a day after the House Homeland Security Committee invited the Salahis and the Secret Service to attend a hearing Thursday about the alleged security breach.

“We are cooperating extensively with the U.S. Secret Service on their internal review and investigation,” Tareq Salahi, 41, said, adding that the couple have turned over documentation showing that they were invited to the event. “The truth will come out.”

Not on guest listIf the Salahis attend and testify, committee members are expected to ask them detailed questions about how they managed to access the White House grounds via the Southeast Gate, enter through the East Wing and be photographed both with President Obama and the prime minister of India.

To the embarrassment of the White House and the Secret Service, the Salahis did all of that without holding a formal invitation or having their names on the official guest list for the Obama administration’s first state dinner.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported ties between the Salahis and a senior Pentagon official who campaigned for Obama and spoke at the Democratic National Convention last year. The newspaper found that the Salahis’ lawyer, Paul W. Gardner, was listed as a Facebook friend of Michele S. Jones, special assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Jones, a career military officer who serves as the Pentagon’s White House liaison, exchanged e-mails with the Salahis about the state dinner, but denies she promised them admittance.

“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 by the White House late Monday. “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.”

Couple believe they were invited
The Salahis apparently saw things differently and told Lauer that they were working with the Secret Service to “shed light” on the situation.

“In our view it’s clear to us and, based on the timeline, I think the American public is actually going to be extremely surprised,” said Tareq Salahi, adding that they would soon make public the contents of the alleged e-mail exchange.

“There was e-mail correspondence confirming they were legitimately supposed to be there,” Casey Margenau, a close friend of the couple, told the Washington Post. “They understood they were invited.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded Tuesday morning to claims that the Salahis believed that they were invited to the event.

“They were not on a list here at the White House,” he told Meredith Vieira. “They’d been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner.”

Gibbs added that the matter is being looked into “criminally” and that the Secret Service is doing “anything humanly possible” to prevent another such breach of security.

Another incident?
The Salahis also denied reports that they had previously attended another high-profile event uninvited.

Late Monday, a Washington, D.C., television station reported that the Salahis crashed a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards dinner on Sept. 26 at which Obama spoke. The station’s Web site quoted a foundation representative, Lance Jones, as saying the Salahis were escorted out by security guards after they were caught sitting at a table paid for by other donors.

“Were we escorted out? Of course not,” Tareq Salahi scoffed. “That’s just another gossip, rumor, just unfortunately [the way] this story got started — through a gossip column.”

  • Slideshow Photos

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    President Obama hosts his first state dinner at the White House in honor of India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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    President Barack Obama stands with First Lady Michelle Obama shortly before greeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the North Portico of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 23.

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    Michaele Salahi and her husband Tareq Salahi, right, greet U.S. President Barack Obama during the state dinner. The Salahis caused a firestorm after allegedly penetrating layers of security to enter the White House for the event without an invitation.

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    The Obamas welcome India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur to the state dinner at the White House.

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    Former Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives with his wife Alma Powell.

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    A giant tent serves as the venue for a state dinner on the South Lawn of the White House.

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    Film director M. Night Shyamalan and his wife Bhavna Shyamalan arrive.

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    A display place setting of a dessert at the seat of President Obama is seen at the state dinner highlighting the history and protocol surrounding State and Official Visits.

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    Film director Steven Spielberg poses with actress Alfre Woodard and actor Blair Underwood as they arrive.

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    The Marine Corps band plays before the arrival of President Obama and Prime Minister Singh in the Crosshall of the White House.

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    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrives with Diana Taylor for a State Dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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    President Obama and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toast each other after shaking hands at the state dinner.

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The cable TV channel Bravo asked the caucus for permission to bring cameras into the event because they were evaluating potential cast members for the reality TV show “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” which Michaele Salahi has been trying to get on. The caucus denied Bravo’s request.

The Salahis’ ties to the Beltway social scene apparently stem from Taleq Salahi’s stewardship of a failed family-owned vineyard in Virginia and participation in America’s Polo Cup events. Before last week the couple weren’t known in Washington social circles, and records show that Tareq Sahali gave just $1,600 in political contributions over the past nine years.

On her Facebook page, Michaele Sahali expressed her desire to be famous: “Get Ready Kelly Ripa — Don’t you want a friend to tag team Regis!” She even wrote that she wanted to co-host TODAY.

“We are certain we will be exonerated,” Tareq Salahi told Lauer.

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