Desiree Rogers: From Salahi Slip-Up to Corporate Success

VIDEO: Former White House social secretary reflects on Salahis and other low points.
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In her first network television interview since leaving the White House as social secretary, Desiree Rogers talked openly about the pitfalls of her tenure as with the Obama administration and of getting back on her feet after the 2009 Salahis scandal that tarnished her reputation.

The descendant of a Creole voodoo priestess named Marie Laveau Glapion, Rogers touted her "headstrong," Southern charm. The 51-year-old Washington insider and friend to the Obamas has reinvented herself as the CEO of Johnson Publishing Co., which produces Jet and Ebony magazines.

"It feels liberating," she told "Nightline's" Bill Weir. "I feel like, for the first time, I'm in a position that allows me to really use all of my assets in a very powerful way."

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET.

Rogers talked at length about that fateful night when Tareq and Michaele Salahi, socialites from Virginia, managed to slip uninvited into the state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in 2009.

"It's unfortunate that, you know, this happened and ... it's over," she said. "It's the past, it's behind us and that's the end of it."

Although tensions already were building between Rogers and her colleagues, the Salahis' security breach, which launched an investigation, became the trigger for her dismissal from the White House in February 2010.

"I think a less mature person might be resentful," she said. "My job is to make certain that I've done what I was asked and my department has done what we were asked to do by the president and the first lady and the State Department. I believe that we accomplished that."

Desiree Rogers with President Obama
in 2009. AP Photo

Secret Service director Mark Sullivan testified in a House Homeland Security panel in December 2009 that the Salahis were able to talk themselves past the Secret Service detail at one of the White House gate checkpoints without an invitation. They then were screened and passed through into the East Wing for the state dinner on Nov. 25, 2009.

It wasn't until the following day that reports began circulating over who they were and how they got into such a high-security event.

"It was raining," Rogers said in defense. "People were trying to be helpful and, you know, [the Salahis] were just making a fool of them. It was horrible."

Looking back, Rogers felt most sorry for the Secret Service details who were working that night. She said they were professionals who became distracted.

"I think I feel the worst for, really, the agents that, you know, have to work there every day doing their jobs," Rogers said. "To have these two think this is a game, and it's really not."

Although she was asked to testify at the panel hearing, the White House invoked executive privilege to keep her out.

"Under normal circumstances, I certainly would have been, you know, willing and able to answer all the questions," she said. "Those aren't normal circumstances."

The Salahis were one of the couples featured on the Bravo reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," and cameras were rolling the night they went to the state dinner.

The Secret Service later used the footage in its investigation.

Rogers said she did not watch the Bravo episode because she "already knew what had happened."

Ultimately, Rogers said, her departure from the White House was a "joint decision" made between her and Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.

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