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Monday , November 30 , 2009
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Gatecrashers seek cash for tale on TV
Michaele shakes hands with Obama at the White House dinner. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seen next to them. (White House picture)

Washington, Nov. 29: As White House officials fended off new questions about how a fame-seeking couple finessed their way into President Barack Obama’s glittering state dinner last week, the aspiring reality TV stars themselves began trying to sell their story for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Television industry executives said yesterday that Michaele and Tareq Salahi had postponed plans for an interview on Monday on CNN’s Larry King Live and were seeking top-dollar bids for their first television interview.

The Salahis, who embarrassed the Secret Service by passing through its security screens as if invisible and then posed for the cameras with Obama and many of his bona fide guests at a party honouring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, remained out of sight on Saturday and their spokesperson did not return calls.

The Secret Service would not comment or say whether investigators have interviewed the pair.

For years, the Salahis have publicised their own flashy adventures in the social and sporting scenes of Washington and its outlying horse country, and left behind a record of lawsuits and unpaid bills, many from the bankruptcy of the family winery after extended litigation between Tareq and his parents.

Even the upscale salon where Michaele, with TV cameras in tow, prepared for the big event had never been paid for its previous services in 2002 when the couple were married, the salon’s operators said in interviews.

As questions continued to swirl about the pair’s most remarkable appearance to date, a television network executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the network does not publicly comment on payments, said the couple’s asking price for an interview was in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. “They are asking for best offers from all the networks,” the executive said.

Separately, a CNN spokesperson confirmed that the appearance on King’s talk show was postponed on Friday.

Meanwhile, several guests who had entered the White House through the same entrance as the Salahis said the Secret Service’s normal security check-in process, familiar to many of them, had been haphazard. They said Secret Service guards had not directed the visitors through the guardhouse with its metal detector and X-ray screeners, located just inside the east entrance.

Instead, after guards glanced at ID cards in the dark, they waited in a chilly mist outside the East Wing portico. Then they were funnelled to a portable metal detector but not an X-ray scanner for checking other belongings.

Michaele has boasted about her work for high-profile charities and is being considered for a brighter spotlight as a cast member on Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of DC. Tareq was the chief executive of Oasis Winery, a now-bankrupt winery in Virginia that his father started in the 1970s.

A polo player, Tareq also founded the America’s Polo Cup, an annual international match that takes place in Washington. The winery gave generously to the Wolf Trap cultural centre’s foundation, where he was on the board for a few years. (Traditionally, the First Lady is the foundation’s figurehead patron.)

The winery filed for bankruptcy in February.

The Secret Service, which has said they should not have been let in, acknowledged that officials at the White House east gate “did not follow proper procedures” to confirm that the Salahis were on the list of invited guests.

Edwin M. Donovan, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, said he could not provide additional details about the screening procedures that either were in use or were supposed to be in use at the state dinner. But he said: “The procedures don’t change because of the event taking place.”

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