The Obama White House kicks off a giant holiday social season this week, I've learned: 28 parties and open houses planned for December, with more than 50,000 people expected.
The mega-entertaining sprint, overseen by First Lady Michelle Obama's East Wing Social Office, comes in the wake of a security breach at the Obamas' Nov. 24 state dinner where Tareq and Michaele Salahi, TV reality-show aspirants, whizzed through security checkpoints even though they were not on the 320-person guest list. The Social Office will be more vigilent now, the East Wing said Tuesday.
The Salahis told NBC Tuesday they were not party crashers, but they did not explain why they had the impression they were welcome at the dinner.
I asked Camille Y. Johnston, communications chief for Michelle Obama, for details about the upcoming party season. "This holiday season, more than 50,000 people will visit the White House's 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses," she said.
"Social Office staff will be present to continue to assist guests and the United States Secret Service should any confusion arise. As always, the United States Secret Service will provide security and will control who has access to the White House grounds."
The Social Office, run by Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, came in for criticism for not posting personnel at the East Wing entrance of the White House to work with the Secret Service in checking names off the guest list. The Secret Service took the entire blame, admitting it did not call anyone in the Social Office. People from that office were available to be called, and Rogers herself was around, and presumably would have determined why the Salahis were not on the guest list.
Johnston's statement suggests to me Social Office personnel will be more visible at these upcoming parties.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan will testify about the security breach at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Thursday. The panel also invited the Salahis and Rogers to testify, and as of Tuesday afternoon, the Salahis had not advised the committee of their plans.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday the White House was looking at its security measures.
"The Secret Service is evaluating their procedures. And I'll be honest with you, the White House is evaluating our procedures, too. We want to make sure that anybody that comes here is safe and secure. If you're name isn't on a list -- which theirs wasn't -- if your name wasn't on -- if you didn't get an invite, which they didn't, you shouldn't be here at an event. That's for the safety and security of the president and his family, but also to other guests.
"I don't think there's any doubt -- and the Secret Service has said -- that those individuals should not have gotten on the complex. But I'll tell you guys: We'll look at our procedures here at the White House to ensure that any support that we can provide, in addition to what the Secret Service always does a fabulous job at doing, we will do anything that we have to do."
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Gibbs said the Obamas were angry about the breach. "I think it is safe to say he was angry, Michelle was angry," Gibbs said.
The Salahis appeared on NBC's "Today Show" Tuesday morning to insist they did nothing wrong.
"Well, I can tell you this has been the most devastating thing that's ever happened to us. We're greatly saddened by all the circumstances that have, you know, been involved in portraying my wife and I as party crashers. And I can tell you, we did not party crash the White House," Tareq Salahi told Matt Lauer.
He added, "We are cooperating extensively with the U.S. Secret Service on their internal review and their investigation that they're doing internally. We're proud to be working with them. And we have great respect for the U.S. Secret Service. We have great respect for the presidency and President Obama. And we're going to continue to cooperate, and the truth will soon come out."