Uninvited guests' surprise breakfast with Obamas

But after arriving 24 hours early — on Veterans Day — they found themselves the surprise guests at an invitation-only breakfast with Barack and Michelle Obama. And the president’s aides again found themselves forced to defend the White House’s admissions policy.

The Dardens’ inadvertent upgrade took place two weeks before the Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed the Obamas’ state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, embarrassing their hosts and raising serious security concerns.

The White House has downplayed the latest incident, saying that the Dardens were security-checked and then allowed into the breakfast as a courtesy as there were no public tours on the day in question. Darden, 67, said neither he nor his wife had been told about the breakfast and they had arrived at the White House only to discover their names were not on the admission list that day. But after providing photographic identification, they were ushered into the east room, told they would be meeting the president, and invited to help themselves to the buffet.

“The further we got into the White House, the more surprised we were,” said Darden. “My wife looked at me, and I said: ‘You know, I don’t know if we’re in the right place.’”

He said he felt “kind of funny” after finding himself in the middle of a formal event with 200 others: “I was the only man in the room that wasn’t dressed in a coat and tie,” he said.

They approached an aide to clarify the situation, but were told: “Just go with the flow.” Darden added: “I told him, ‘I don’t think this is part of the White House tour.’ He said, ‘No it’s not. It’s an invitation event for veterans.’'

The official then asked whether Darden was a veteran. When Darden told him he had served in the navy, the aide suggested he and his wife stay.

Baffled but grateful, the Dardens helped themselves to the buffet and took their seats. A little while later, Barack and Michelle Obama arrived and began talking to the guests at each table and posing for photographs with them. Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill also popped in.

Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said agents had subjected the Dardens to the same security procedures as the other breakfast guests, verifying their names and running a criminal background check. Darden said it had been “quite a treat” to meet the Obamas and the Bidens. But, he remains confused as to how they were escorted into a private breakfast, and anxious after the media storm over the Salahi episode. The only thing he and his wife regretted, he added, was that they had yet to receive a copy of their picture with the Obamas.

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