Skip to main content

Prosecute the White House gate-crashers

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
President Obama greets Michaele Salahi in a reception line at Tuesday's state dinner. The White House says she wasn't invited.
President Obama greets Michaele Salahi in a reception line at Tuesday's state dinner. The White House says she wasn't invited.
  • The White House said an uninvited couple crashed the state dinner
  • Ed Rollins says the incident was a disgrace and isn't a laughing matter
  • He says the Secret Service must be held accountable for the lapse
  • Rollins says the couple should be charged criminally and jailed if convicted

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- The gate crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi want to be famous as stars of reality television. I am all for that. Give them a reality television series and call it "Trial and Jailtime" in the D.C. criminal justice system. This despicable, desperate, duplicitous couple disgraced the Secret Service and embarrassed the president in his home.

They totally overshadowed the president's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the leader of an important ally. The incident made the Obamas' first state dinner, honoring the prime minister and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, fodder for comedians -- and it certainly raises security concerns for other world leaders visiting at later dates.

The gate-crashers need to be held accountable and not glorified.

Unless they have some excuse we haven't heard yet, the Salahis deserve to be charged with criminal trespassing and lying to federal officers for starters. Yes, they dressed for the occasion, but the Salahis are no different, and shouldn't be regarded any differently, than a nut case who jumps over the White House fence and tries to run in the front door. The only difference is that the fence-jumper would be shot ten feet from his entrance point.

I worked in a couple of White Houses and have always had the greatest respect for the Secret Service. These men and women put their lives on the line daily and often serve in long and tedious tours of duty.

I worked in the White House when President Reagan was shot and I saw the extraordinary bravery of Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, who was critically wounded when he took a bullet in the stomach after turning and putting his body between the president and the shooter, John Hinckley. But for all the bravery of its agents, the Secret Service lives in a world that demands zero defects.

So I have to tell you I am appalled at the comments by the Secret Service spokesman who was described as saying it hadn't been determined whether party-crashing is technically illegal. He went on to say he didn't believe the Salahis posed a security risk. Spin control is not needed now. Responsibility is the key word.

Trespassing is illegal. How does the Secret Service know whether the Salahis were a risk or not? The service apparently had not done a background check on them -- unlike every other guest and government employee in the tent that night -- because they weren't on the invitation list.

Video: Crashers met the President

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan issued a rare apology, saying the service took full responsibility for the episode and was "deeply concerned and embarrassed." Not good enough! He needs to determine who was responsible for letting the Salahis onto the White House grounds and fire whoever it was, before he thinks about offering his own resignation.

Public servants have to be held accountable and now is a good time to start.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has fired some of the top people in the military because they were not performing at the level he expected. Can Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department oversees the Secret Service, expect any less? Can an agency, Homeland Security, that has responsibility for securing our borders be trusted if it cannot even secure the White House?

We live in a world of reality television in which egotists try to be famous for three minutes and land an appearance on the talk shows. The bigger question is what example this sets for our kids. If we glorify the actions of people like the Salahis and don't hold them accountable, how do we teach our kids what is right and what is wrong?

The Salahis claim there's more to the story. Their lawyer says they weren't crashing the party, but the Secret Service says otherwise.

Based on the facts as we know them so far, there's a simple way to deal with this case.

Charge them, prosecute them, and if a D.C. jury finds them guilty, jail them. Make an example out of them. Then next November when the president is pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey, he can pardon them too.

And after the pardon, as is traditional for the turkeys whose lives are spared, they can go live in Disney World -- a fantasy world that seems to be the perfect place for this pair.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.