Brace yourself, America. Tareq and Michaele Salahi -- brazen White House gate-crashers in the eyes of many, and the world's most misunderstood and maligned presidential invitees in their own minds -- have kicked off a nationwide ubiquity tour, presumably to gin up interest in their newest vehicle to fame if not fortune, Bravo's "The Real Housewives of DC."
Oh, and let's not forget the action figures, 500-page book and Halloween costumes also in the publicity pipeline.
With another state dinner on tap Wednesday, the timing must have seemed propitious. The blitz began Tuesday, when the Fifth-Amendment-pleading congressional witnesses and relentless social moths were seen fluttering around a big, new flame:
Radaronline.com's 5-minute-26-second interview with the infamous pair, including a request for a White House apology to make up for their pain and suffering since they were outed last fall as state dinner non-invitees by The Washington Post. There was also the requisite money shot of Michaele (pronounced Mick-KAY-la) wearing the iconic scarlet sari known 'round the world, and Tareq (rhymes with Garrick) in a forgettable tux.
"It would be nice if somebody apologized to us," Tareq says, for what he insists was their perfectly legit acceptance of a bona fide invitation to attend the Obamas' first state dinner in November, never mind that no Salahis were on the guest list and the couple has yet to produce actual paper proof -- heavy cream stock with an engraved presidential seal and a request for the pleasure of their company to honor the Indian prime minister.
"Nobody realized this, but we were asked for our Social Security number, our date of birth, our full legal name and our citizenship for clearance for the White House state dinner," says Tareq, who does much of the talking throughout. "Not for a breakfast. Not for a VIP tour. Not for a luncheon. Specifically, in writing, for the White House state dinner evening activities." The Salahis did not explain, nor did Radar ask, why they slipped out of the White House before the start of the seated formal meal, which was served at assigned tables with place cards for each invited guest.
"I would certainly not treat anyone this way that comes to my house, even if there was a question about an invitation, or there was some miscommunication," he says. "I would still welcome anyone and be gracious."
Actually, once they got past the Secret Service, they mingled at will. So what exactly do they want the White House to apologize for?
Graciousness and "I'm sorries" aside, that security breach freaked out the Secret Service, the first couple, the White House social secretary (who subsequently lost her job), the Indian government and any number of American lawmakers.
Tareq used the Radar interview to denounce the Jan. 20 House Homeland Security Committee hearing as a waste of tax dollars and "a charade" that forced him and his wife to plead the Fifth Amendment repeatedly. And they are still under investigation, which is why they didn't go into detail about what happened the day and night of the dinner.
All that notoriety churned up old stories of unpaid bills and unmet charity pledges, of an ongoing feud over the family's Oasis winery in Virginia, as well as creditor lawsuits (Tareq tried paying a $925 landscaping bill with a Patek Phillipe watch, which if real would have been worth a fat five figures but as a fake, which his proved to be, was worth squat).
Things haven't been easy since all this hit the fan, Michaele tells Radar. Someone sent a package containing a used condom to the Virginia home where the interview took place (a large, gold fringed American flag on a tall wooden pole was hard to miss in the background).
Then there are a couple of new developments to add to their woes. In addition to the federal grand jury looking into whether they lied to government agents about their White House appearance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating whether Tareq misused a $100,000 rural development grant in 2006 for a study of the effect of tourism at Virginia wineries (such as the Salahi family's embattled Oasis vineyard), reports the Washington Examiner. Virginia wine industry sources tell the paper that the Salahis "turned in an older study completed by the state of Virginia, and said it was a new study and pocketed the dough."
The Salahis' publicist, Max Markson, called the recycled report story "completely ridiculous" in an e-mail to the Examiner, noting, "You could say it proves the point" that there is "a witch hunt" against the couple.
Meanwhile, Tareq and Michaele are already offering $100 tickets to their June 11-12 America's Polo Cup event in West Potomac Park near the White House, reports The Washington Post, although their National Park Service permits are still pending "and many of their original sponsors, including the Indian Embassy, have long since disavowed involvement." But here's some good news. Michaele has promised to judge a sari-wearing contest, yes she has.
"It's been painful, it's been upsetting that we can't speak on the truth and facts," Tareq tells Radar about the earlier unpleasantness. "We have a lot inside us we want to get out."
That may happen sooner rather than later, because now the Salahis have a literary agent, non-fiction specialist Sharlene Martin, according to the Daily Beast.
Lord knows how much other help the couple have hired for their growing list of self-branding items that may come perilously close to self-parody, but which remain potentially lucrative if not altogether tasteful.
In addition to reporting that 500-page book in the works (500!!!pages!!!) about their travails, Radar reveals plans for Salahi action figures (doing what? posting grip-and-grin party pics on Facebook?) and Halloween costumes. (Note to Michaele: Since it took several hours at a salon to get all that blond hair extended and tended for your White House drop-by, please offer a decent platinum wig along with each sari.)
And of course there is their star turn on the "The Real Housewives of DC," expected to debut in the next few months on Bravo, hence the media hype. Tareq told Radar that breaching the White House was certainly not an "audition" caper, not that either Salahi would confirm or deny they'd already signed as cast members.
If Michaele needs a cosmetic line, she who barely parts her lips to speak should instantly license "Salahi Pink" lipstick in the exact shade she wears during this interview, which features a few zoom shots of photos of the party-loving pair with famous folks ranging from Bill Clinton and Jay Leno to Princes Charles and Harry.
Better still is the Oct. 14, 2003, typed note on White House letterhead from President George W. Bush sending best wishes on their marriage. Left unmentioned were subsequent legal disputes over unpaid bills from that lavish wedding for 1,000 of their nearest and dearest.
As for the unfolding publicity blitz, Radar reports that Tareq and Michaele are poised to appear on "Inside Edition" later this week and that on May 25 they'll join "Today" host Matt Lauer for an encore interview (after their December visit). The NBC booking is doubtless aimed at driving eyeballs to "Housewives," a corporate cousin.
Tareq tells Radar that "we were not asked by any network or cable affiliate" to get themselves into that state dinner, never mind that a Bravo crew filmed Michaele getting primped for hours at a Georgetown salon, and then rode with the couple in a van that got the duo near the White House but not inside the gates.
For me, the burning question concerns the fate of the vaunted red sari.
I want Michaele to donate it to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, which already has Fonzie's jacket, Archie Bunker's chair and Dorothy's ruby-red slippers. After all, it became part of the cultural lexicon and landscape almost overnight, mocked in gate-crashing skits worldwide, including on "Saturday Night Live" and at Washington's Gridiron Club dinner.
As a hot novelty costume, I cannot wait to see platoons of crimson-swathed drag-queens marching eight and 10 abreast in gay-pride parades and high-heel races around the globe.
The Salahis assured an Australian TV host earlier this year that they would auction off the original for charity, with proceeds aiding the victims of the Haitian earthquake.
So do it already, Tareq and Michaele. What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?