U.S. Secret Service director Mark Sullivan told a House committee investigating the Nov. 24 White House security breach that the agency bears full responsibility for mistakenly allowing Tareq and Michaele Salahi to attend a state dinner to which they apparently did not have an invitation. He rejected any suggestion that the White House was to blame.
But when asked if a member of the White House staff stationed at the entry checkpoint could have prevented the Salahis from getting in, Sullivan said "it would have helped."
The Salahis, the accused White House party-crashers who were invited to today's hearing, did not come. Neither did the White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he intends to subpoena the Salahis to testify but blocked a request by the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., to subpoena Rogers as well.
"I believe there is a clear distinction here between Ms. Rogers and the Salahis… her role does not encompass security," Thompson said. "It would not be prudent to expend resources in protracted fight with the White House when the testimony sought" is not integral to security of the president.
Earlier, Secret Service director Sullivan acknowledged proper procedures were not followed at one state dinner checkpoint on Nov. 24. He said three agents actually checked a guest list for the Salahis' names and, not finding them there, still allowed the couple to proceed to the next checkpoint inside the White House complex.
"Human error occurred in the execution of our duties," Sullivan said. "A mistake was made. In our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake."
The agents have been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation is pending, Sullivan told the committee.
But Sullivan's explanation and acceptance of responsibility failed to placate members of the House Homeland Security Committee who sparred with the director over whether members of the White House staff bore some responsibility too.
"Security is a shared responsibility," said ranking member Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "We cannot find any instance where the social secretary's office was not there. In this instance, for whatever reason, a decision was made not to have someone there… not one."
Sullivan said the Secret Service and White House staff agreed during a planning meeting before the state dinner that agents would control the guest list at various entry points.
The committee had called three witnesses to testify on "gate-crash-gate," including White Hosue social secretary Desiree Rogers and the alleged crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi.
The Salahis' attorney, Paul Gardner, had said his clients would not attend, and the White House, claiming executive privilege, announced Wednesday that it would shield Rogers from Congress' questions.
"I think, you know, that, based on separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress. She won't. ... She will not be testifying in front of Congress," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday.
That decision drew criticism from some Republicans on the committee, who suggested the White House is acting as if it has something to hide.
Rep. King called Gibbs' "offhand answer" unacceptable.