Secret Service Chief: Couple Posed No Threat The head of the Secret Service says the security breach at last week's White House state dinner was an aberration. But Mark Sullivan told a House panel the president was never at risk.
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Secret Service Chief: Couple Posed No Threat

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Secret Service Chief: Couple Posed No Threat

Secret Service Chief: Couple Posed No Threat

Secret Service Chief: Couple Posed No Threat

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The head of the Secret Service says the security breach at last week's White House state dinner was an aberration. But Mark Sullivan told a House panel the president was never at risk.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Security at the White House was the topic at another congressional hearing today. Members of Congress had questions about how a Virginia couple managed to crash last week's state dinner. They even shook hands with President Obama. The couple themselves didn't show up for the Capitol Hill hearing, nor did the White House social secretary. So it fell to the director of the Secret Service to accept the blame.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan took his seat this morning, the lone witness at the House Homeland Security Committee's hearing into last week's security foul-up at the White House. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, didn't mince words about what he called a security gap.

Representative BENNIE THOMPSON (Democrat, Mississippi): With security failings that seemed to hang over that evening like a fog, we are all fortunate that this diplomatic celebration did not become a night of horror.

NAYLOR: The panel didn't want to hear only from Sullivan. Also invited to testify was White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. Many believe that if someone from her office had been at the security gate to help resolve any guest list discrepancies, Michaele and Tareq Salahi wouldn't have been able to talk their way past the Secret Service. But the White House, citing executive privilege, refused to let Rogers testify. New York Republican Peter King minced no words himself.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): I think it's wrong. I think it's stonewalling. I think it's an affront to our committee because this was a bipartisan request, Mr. Chairman, a bipartisan request to the White House, which prides itself on being open, which prides itself on cooperation, but in this instance, they are stonewalling.

NAYLOR: Secret Service director Sullivan was unequivocal. The blame for allowing the Salahis into the White House lays solely with his officers.

Mr. MARK SULLIVAN (Director, U.S. Secret Service): Preliminary findings have determined that established procedures related to entering the White House were not followed at initial checkpoint. An error in judgment, a mistake was made. In our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake.

NAYLOR: Sullivan said three Secret Service officers have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the service's own investigation. The White House said yesterday that from now on, someone from the social secretary's office will be posted at security gates to assist in any guest list discrepancies. Washington, D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, asked Sullivan if the Secret Service had increased security for President Obama because of reports of increased threats on his life. But Sullivan said those reports were wrong.

Mr. SULLIVAN: The threats right now in the inappropriate interest that we're seeing is the same level as it has been for the previous two presidents at this point of...

Unidentified Woman: This is very comforting news.

NAYLOR: As for the aspiring reality TV stars behind the whole imbroglio, the Salahis uncharacteristically chose not to appear before the cameras and the committee. Their publicist, Mahogany Jones, issued a statement saying they believe there is nothing further that they can do to assist Congress, but the committee may subpoena the couple to force them to appear.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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