The director of the U.S. Secret Service says his agency was responsible for allowing an unauthorized couple to attend a White House state dinner last week. But he told the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Thursday that President Barack Obama was never at risk.
The Secret Service says Tareq and Michaele Salahi were not invited to the White House. But they still got into the state dinner for the Prime Minister of India, along with more than 300 other guests. And they even met President Obama.
"Although these individuals went through magnatometers and other levels of screening, their entry into the White House is unacceptable and indefensible," said Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.
"The real concern is if they would have had a different intent," former FBI agent Brad Garrett added. "Could they have possibly physical attacked somebody ? Of course they could have."
Director Sullivan would not discuss details of his agency's investigation into the incident, but he did not rule out criminal charges against the couple. He said at no time was President Obama in danger.
"I feel confident that based on what I have heard, based on what I have seen, based on what I have been briefed on that they did not provide a risk to the President," Sullivan said.
He told lawmakers that when it was discovered that the Salahis were not on any guest list, Secret Service personnel should have contacted the White House staff for assistance. He said the three agents responsible for the breach have been put on administrative leave.
Republican Congressman Michael McCaul and other committee members found the story remarkable.
"How in the world could this couple get past the Secret Service?" he asked.
"Sir, I have asked myself that question a thousand times over the last week," Sullivan responded. "Do I like to see this? Do any of our people like to see this? Believe me, we are beating ourselves up over it. We do not like to see this."
The event was President Obama's first state dinner. The Secret Service says the Salahis were not on a list of invited guest, but they maintain they were.
"We were invited, not [gate] crashers and there is not anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do this. Our lives have really been destroyed," Michaele and Tareq Salahi insisted.
The Salahis and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers were asked to testify Thursday, but declined. The Salahis are aspiring television reality show celebrities. They released a statement Wednesday saying they had already provided information to the Secret Service and members of the House committee.