White House gate crashers in less festive mood in first interview

Washington, Dec 2 - The would-be reality TV couple who allegedly crashed a White House state dinner got another round in the spotlight, wearing sombre outfits and faces to tell NBC how devastated they were over the ensuing notoriety.

It was the first interview given by Michaele and Tareq Salahi, whose uninvited presence last week at President Barack Obama's first state dinner to honour Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set off a media furore.

In contrast to the festive red-and-gold sari Michaele, 44, wore to preen in front of cameras at the White House, she wore plain black for the NBC interview Tuesday, with her striking blond mane set off by a gold cross sparkling around her neck. Tareq also wore black.

"Our lives have been destroyed - everything we've worked for," Michaele said. "For me, 44 years, just destroyed."

The couple has been summoned to appear Thursday before a Congressional committee on security, along with Secret Service director Mark Sullivan and White House officials in charge of social planning.

The Secret Service has admitted it failed to stop them, even though their names were not on the guest list and they had no printed invitation. The agency, which protects the president and top US officials, is conducting its own investigation.

The Salahis, whose Virginia vineyard has been closed due to financial troubles, have received a free run of publicity - not all of it positive - as Michaele makes a bid to appear on a new reality show about Washington housewives.

The couple insisted Tuesday on NBC that they had been invited and were not crashers. "There isn't anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behaviour to do that ... certainly not us," Michaele said.

But the couple refused to say who had invited them, or where their invitations were, and said they believed it was all the result of a misunderstanding.

"You don't show up at the White House as the result of a misunderstanding," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC in a separate interview.

Another piece of the mystery emerged Tuesday that showed the couple did have contact with a defence official who had White House credentials.

The Washington Post, whose reporter first broke the story after recognising the couple and their absence from the guest list, reported that the Salahis had sought a top defence department official's help to gain access to the dinner.

But the official, Michele Jones, a special assistant to the secretary of defence and the Pentagon-based liaison to the White House, denied that she had ever implied they had an invitation, the Post reported.

In a statement issued Monday evening by the White House, Jones said she had "specifically" told them "that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorise attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities".

Jones' connection to the Salahis was unclear, but the Post noted that she lists Paul Gardner, the Salahis' lawyer, as one of her 50 friends on the internet social website Facebook.(dpa)