Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Audacity of Blame

Secret Service Agents Could Be Fired For White House Breach:

Secret Service chief Mark Sullivan told a Congressional committee Thursday morning that the agents who admitted Tareq and Michaele Salahi through a White House checkpoint at last week's state dinner have been placed on administrative leave and could lose their jobs.

Sullivan's testimony came during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, at which he took full responsibility for the security failure. He said the agents face a range of disciplinary actions, including the possibility of being fired.
Talk about extreme. While his accepting responsibility for the breach is refreshing, and while disciplining the agents in some mild form may be appropriate, firing them would be over the top. After all, they weren't the ones who set out that evening to break the law.

In fact, the only invitation we can be certain the Salahi's did receive was an invitation to testify at a congressional hearing on the matter. And incredibly, the reality t.v. contestants, along with the White House "social secretary" whom they said had invited them, all "declined the invitation".

In a statement issued late Wednesday, a publicist for the couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, said that they had fully cooperated with the Secret Service investigation into the incident, voluntarily meeting with agents and providing relevant documents and e-mail messages.

The evidence, the publicist wrote, shows that “no laws were broken, that White House protocol relating to invitations was either deficient or mismanaged, and that there were honest misunderstandings and mistakes made by all parties involved.”

The publicist also said that the Salahis had presented similar information to the leadership of the Homeland Security Committee, and therefore felt that there was “nothing further they could do to assist Congress.”

Snicker. Don't you love it? A "publicist" has now concluded that "no laws were broken," the White House f'd up the invitation process, and that these people have nothing further to add. We don't need no stinkin' congressional investigation (but memo to Congress: if you are willing to pay them top dollar, they might indeed come pull up a chair).

And check out the White House's claim of executive privilege for the social secretary Desiree Rogers.

Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, reportedly has said he would support a subpoena for Rogers to testify about her role in how the couple made it inside the White House for the state dinner Nov. 24.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the Obama administration would fight any such effort to compel Rogers's testimony.

He told reporters that only rarely has White House staff been compelled to testify before Congress, citing Watergate and the review of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"There's a pretty long history allowing White House staff to provide advice to the president confidentially and not have to testify before Congress," Gibbs told reporters. "I don't think even Peter King would have the audacity to put the Salahis in the same trifecta as Watergate, 9/11, and some of the financial deals."

Perhaps, but it is, according to a brief Google search, one of the biggest breaches of White House security in history. And since when does the social secretary give "confidential advice" to the president?

In looking at previous breaches, I love the 1994 assessment of those who attempt this kind of thing, which states: "threats tend to fall into two categories: Those with political motivations, and those who act out of psychological instability." I guess breaching White House security to land a coveted position on reality t.v. falls outside the psychological instability category.

To reiterate the point I was making in Tuesday's post: had the Salahis not been white (blond), well-dressed, and being followed by Bravo network t.v. cameras, the treatment of them and this story would have been much different, and the Secret Service would doubtfully be contemplating firing the agents on duty that night.

Let's keep the blame squarely where it belongs: the reality t.v. wannabes and, as Maureen Dowd explains, the White House staff itself.

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