White House staff gets partial blame for party crashers

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2009 

WASHINGTON — White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers will not talk to a Congressional committee investigating the security breach when a Virginia couple crashed a State Dinner last week, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.

The decision came as an internal White House memo placed at least partial responsibility for the gate-crashers on White House staff who "did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service."

"Separation of powers," Gibbs said. "Staff here don't go to testify" before Congress.

Gibbs brushed aside questions about whether Rogers bore some of the blame because she didn't have a staffer at the gate when the couple insisted they had been invited and were waved though by the Secret Service.

"The first family is quite pleased with her performance," Gibbs said.

He added that the White House on Tuesday returned to the Bush-era policy of having an aide from the Social Secretary's office at the gate to double check guests during every social function. The change was ordered by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, Gibbs said.

Messina issued the order after a preliminary review of what happened at the Nov. 24 state dinner for the prime minister of India. Messina's memo on the subject says, as the Secret Service has acknowledged, that Secret Service procedures were not followed.

However, Messina concluded that the White House was not blameless.

"It is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex," Messina wrote, describing a scene where White House staff members were "walking around outside between the check points" but were not actively engaged in assisting the Secret Service.

Messina said that "beginning immediately for all official White House events, White House staff will be stationed physically at the check points with the United States Secret Service" where they will check arriving guests off of the official guest list and resolve any difficulties.

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