Desiree Rogers: From Salahi Slip-Up to Corporate Success

Former White House social secretary discusses her slip-ups in the Obama admin.

ByABC News
April 8, 2011, 5:55 PM

April 11, 2011— -- 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."

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.

"The reason that I was at Fashion Week, which is on a day off by the way, was [because] many times that people that we were working with in this White House, that's where creativity gathers," she said. "It was like one-stop business shopping."

But clearly, leaving the White House hasn't held Rogers back, not even from politics. She recently was involved with former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel's transition into becoming the mayor of Chicago.

With her new position with Johnson Publishing, Rogers said it was all about getting back to basics. But she was looking forward to a boom year.

"I don't do ordinary work," she said. "That is not me in the least."