White House intruders want to strike it rich

White House intruders want to strike it rich

Michaele and Tareq Salahi. AP

As White House officials fended off new questions about how a fame-seeking couple finessed their way into the president’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 on Saturday 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 President Obama and many of his bona fide guests at a party honouring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, remained out of sight on Saturday and their spokeswoman 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 vineyard after extended litigation between Tareq Salahi and his parents.

Even the upscale salon where Michaele Salahi, with TV cameras in tow, was 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 condition of anonymity because the network does not publicly comment on payments, said the couple’s asking price for an interview was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “They are asking for best offers from all the networks,” the executive said. Programmes quietly pay steep fees for photographs and videos to secure interviews in some cases.

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

Meanwhile, several invited 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 funneled to a portable metal detector but no X-ray scanner for checking other belongings.

The Salahis were not national celebrities but they assiduously cultivated an image as well-connected Washington socialites.

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