State Dinner Curse Strikes Again With French President Visit

The sticky issue of French president's plus-one invitation to White House.

Feb. 10, 2014— -- Looks like French President Francois Hollande will attend Tuesday’s state dinner tout seul.

Since Hollande split with live-in girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler, France’s de facto first lady, amid allegations of an affair with 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet, the White House has likely been puzzling over potential seating arrangements.

Though the official invitation was addressed to “President Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler,” some people speculated that Hollande would bring Gayet instead. Much to France’s relief, Hollande announced he would travel to the U.S. unaccompanied.

The White House is ducking questions about the French president’s personal situation, referring reporters to the French government. But Hollande’s tryst isn’t the only scandal that has threatened to complicate state dinners in recent years.

At the Obama’s first official state dinner in November 2009, so-called White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi managed to slip through two Secret Service checkpoints into the reception, where they were announced by a uniformed Marine and photographed alongside the president, vice president, and guest of honor, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

The White House later confirmed that the Salahis weren’t on the guest list. But the couple -– reportedly vying for a spot on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of DC” –- insisted that they were, in fact, invited.

“We were ... not crashers,” Michaele Salahi told NBC’s Matt Lauer, calling the incident “a series of misunderstandings.”

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan took responsibility for the extraordinary security breach, saying, “The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint. ... That failing is ours.”

At a congressional hearing, the Salahis took the Fifth.

White House administration faced sharp criticism once again in January 2011, following a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Pundits criticized the overly-extravagant menu, which included a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, originally priced at $115 per bottle and sold for around $350 at the time of the dinner.

They also chastised Michelle Obama, who wore an orange Alexander McQueen gown, for choosing a British designer over an American one -- a faux pas that some felt was especially painful given China’s rising economic stature.

Then, in September 2013, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her White House visit after documents released by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reportedly revealed that the U.S. had been listening in on Rousseff’s telephone calls and emails.

Rousseff lambasted the NSA’s snooping as “a violation of human rights and civil liberties” and refused to reschedule, even after a 20-minute personal phone call from President Obama.

The White House labeled the cancellation a “postponement” and said it hoped the relationship between Brazil and the United States would not be “overshadowed by a single bilateral issue.”

“The president ... is committed to working together with President Rousseff ... in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.