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US Congress panel scolds White House gatecrashers

January 21, 2010 10:04 IST

The Salahi couple, Tareq and Michaele, infuriated United States lawmakers as they refused to answer any of their questions and invoked their right to remain silent in their forced appearance before a Congressional committee.

The celebrity-hounding couple from Virginia was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Homeland Security on Wednesday and was questioned on the circumstances of their attending the White House State Dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 24 uninvited; thus causing a major security breach.

The couple, after a short opening statement, invoked their right to remain silent given to a US citizen under the 5th Amendment of the American constitution.

"On advice of counsel, we respectfully invoke our right to remain silent, and we will decline to answer any questions surrounding the circumstances around the events of November 24, 2009," Tareq Salahi told the members of the Committee.

"You have your right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States, but you have shown effrontery here to take the names of men and women in uniform who are protecting this nation and suggest that somehow what you do provides support for them," Congressman Dan Lungren said. What made the lawmakers angrier was the last sentence of their opening statement, in which the couple said they respect the services of the Secret Service.

"My wife and I say we are strong supporters of the men and women in uniform both here and abroad. We have great respect for the Presidency, the men and women of the United States Secret Service, and they have a tradition of excellence in their missions. And nothing that transpired on November 24 should take away from the extraordinary services the United States Secret Service performs on a daily basis," Tareq Salahi said.

"I was going to sit here and remain silent until I heard that last paragraph of your statement. But to suggest that somehow what you're doing shows support for our men and women is an abomination. The Constitution protects fools. The Constitution produces stupidity. The Constitution protects errant thought. Thank God it does," an angry Lungren said.

"Your actions or alleged actions on that fateful night make a mockery of this country, a mockery of our security, a mockery of your commitment to this nation, and a mockery to any representation that you are patriots or love this country," said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

"I am saddened. I am disappointed. And I am outraged. And I would ask you to check your patriotism and to find out why you had to do something of that level," Jackson Lee said.

"You had a duty it inform the Secret Service officer that you were not an officially invited guest. You dressed the part with intent of attending a state's dinner. You did not receive an official invite. Your backgrounds were not checked by the Secret Service. Your names did not appear on the guest list, and your request for an invitation from Michele Jones was denied and rebuffed," she said.

"On the advice of counsel, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent and decline to answer your question," the Salahis responded every time they were asked a question.

"Your behaviour was wanton and egregious. After scheming your way into the event, you shamelessly proceeded to socialise with the President, Vice President, and various invited guests, then brazenly posted photographs of your poor and ill-conceived behaviour on your Facebook page for the entire world to see. Your actions could have seriously endangered the safety and the life of the President of the United States, Vice President and the visiting dignitary," the angry Congresswoman said.

"I can't believe how much you're wasting ours and taxpayers' dollars right now. It's incredible. You know, I am not going to ask a question because you're not going to give me an answer anyway. But if you truly are patriotic, if you truly are Americans, if you truly love this country, think about your actions," commented Congressman Christopher Carney.

Several other lawmakers agreed with the views of Carney. While almost all the questions invoked the same answer from the Salahis, Michaele said "Yes", when Congresswoman Laura Richardson asked, "When the criminal process is evaluated and concluded, will you return to this committee and testify and tell us exactly how you entered the White House?"

Several of the statements by the members of the Congressional committee were provoking for the Salahis, who had a tough time maintaining their calm. "Who would have thought that two normal-looking people -- take a look at them today -- dressed to the tee -- these beautiful people would have broken through in manner, shape, or form, to be alongside the President of the United States?" asked Congressman Bill Pascrell.

"This committee gave you every opportunity to speak behind closed doors. Did it not, Mr Salahi? Did it not," Pascrell asked.

This time Tareq decided to respond. "You did, but you didn't afford us any legal protection. You wouldn't -- you wanted us to speak versus our attorneys," he said.

Image: Tareq and Michaele Salahi arrive to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington | Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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