WASHINGTON (CN) – The Secret Service Director took the blame after an uninvited Virginia couple slid through security and into the White House to mingle with President Obama and the Indian prime minister in November. “This is our fault and our fault alone,” Mark Sullivan of the Secret Service said Thursday while testifying before Congress. He said three members of the Secret Service have been placed on paid administrative leave, and insisted Obama was not in danger.
“I am confident that there was no threat to the president,” Sullivan said to the House Homeland Security Committee, noting that the couple had been searched for weapons and had undergone a background check.
Committee lawmakers appeared to remain concerned. “This has probably happened many times,” Alabama Republican Mike Rogers said.
California Democrat Jane Harman contrasted White House security with the smooth security she saw at a Bruce Springsteen concert, which she attended. She said there were no lines, no security problems, and that they had issued tickets on tamper proof paper with bar codes. “There may be more modern techniques for screening people who are trying to enter the White House,” she offered.
Sullivan replied, “This is a human error,” and said any amount of technology would likely still not have solved the problem.
Tareq and Michaele Salahi did not show up to the hearing despite an invitation to testify before the House. Thompson said he is considering subpoenaing the Salahis to testify.
Also absent was Desiree Rogers, the White House social secretary. The White House on Wednesday said that she would not testify, citing separation of powers.
New York Ranking Member Peter King requested that the committee also issue a subpoena for Rogers, but Mississippi Chair Bennie Thompson appeared skeptical.
A haze still surrounds the details of what happened that November night, but the consensus among members of the Homeland Security Committee seemed to be that the couple, though not on the guest list, insisted at the first checkpoint that they were, and were passed to the second checkpoint.
The couple was never escorted out, even after one guest allegedly approached White House staff to say she thought they were not supposed to be at Obama’s first state dinner.
The breach was only discovered after the dinner, allegedly from pictures posted on Facebook.
The Salahis apparently had obtained a list of non-attending, invited guest with the reasons for why they would not attend, leading committee members to suggest they had an inside source.
California Republican Dan Lungren called the security breach a “royal screw up.”
This is not the first time the couple arrived uninvited to a government function. They reportedly crashed a Congressional Black Caucus dinner, sneaking in through a kitchen, and an event with the U.S. military.
“There seems to be a pattern with these people,” Clarke from New York said.
Republicans were concerned that Social Secretary Office members were not present at the White House security checkpoints to greet the guests, as they traditionally are.
The office is part of the White House and is responsible for organizing official social events.
Michigan Republican Candice Miller expressed her worry that the political role of the social secretary in greeting guests had been outsourced to the non-partisan Secret Service, and New York Ranking Member Pete King said that if social secretary workers had been at the gates, the couple would not have gotten through.
Sullivan said that it had been a joint recommendation to not have social secretary officials at the gates with the Secret Service.
Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee said Republicans were “muddying the water” and argued that the committee only has jurisdiction to review security issues, and that the administrative role of the social secretary should not play a role in the hearing.
A criminal investigation is under way.
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