White House gate-crashing not couple's first brush with celebrity

The aspiring reality-TV stars from Northern Virginia who appear to have crashed the White House's state dinner also seem to have staked out prime locations during President Obama's inauguration weekend, posting photos on Facebook that purportedly show them in the first family's glass-enclosed viewing area after a concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who are apparently auditioning to have roles in the Bravo cable channel's forthcoming “The Real Housewives of Washington,” penetrated layers of security Tuesday night with no invitation to mingle with the likes of Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Michaele Salahi spent nearly eight hours before the state dinner in a Georgetown salon setting getting groomed for her big night out at the White House, though mostly getting filmed getting groomed, the CEO of Erwin Gomez Salon said Thursday. The glamorous blonde was being taped by a production crew associated with Bravo, said James Packard-Gomez.

“It was a lot of schmoozing with the staff,” said Packard-Gomez, explaining why a hair and makeup session lasted from nearly 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., extended by the crew's multiple takes and interviews with Salahi and the stylists. The talk of the day was Salahi's impending trip to the state dinner.

“They were asking, `So what do you think of them getting invited to this?' ” Packard-Gomez said. The staffer doing Salahi's hair asked to see the White House invitation, he said. “She starts rummaging through her purse, and then said, `It must be out in the car.' “

The staff also asked Salahi if the film crews would be following her to the White House. “We tried,” he says she told them, “but they wouldn't let them in.”

Bravo and the local production company it has contracted, Half Yard Productions, declined to comment. A source close to the production said the production team was aware that the Salahis were headed to the state dinner, but that they were taking the couple's word for it that they were invited.

“It came out on-camera that they were invited,” the source said. A film crew followed the Salahis on the drive to the White House, but there is no evidence they attempted to follow them onto White House grounds, the source said.

The source cast doubt on speculation that the Salahis crashed the dinner in hopes of firming up a place in the cast, which Bravo has not yet announced. “I don't think they're afraid of being cut: They create a lot of drama on the show,” the source said. “What they're struggling to do is maintain or create the illusion of being power players in D.C.”

The Salahis got a foothold in Washington society with their Oasis winery — “everybody” on the charity-society circuit, the source said, “wants free wine. What they did was give away wine.”

The Salahis did not respond to e-mails from The Washington Post on Thursday. A publicist for the couple, Mahogany Jones, said in an e-mail, “We will be addressing this specifically with several media platforms.” Meanwhile, CNN announced that the Salahis would appear on “Larry King Live” on Monday night.

Bravo announced this year that it would bring the “Real Housewives” reality franchise to Washington after series set in Orange County, New York, New Jersey and Atlanta proved wildly popular. The shows have made mini-stars of previously unknown women, some of whom are capitalizing with memoirs or merchandise lines.

In Washington, cameras for Half Yard have taped more than half a dozen women at parties, their workplaces, their homes. Salahi, a former Redskins cheerleader who with Tareq is known in local winery and polo-playing circles, has been one of those most conspicuously followed.

Yet as cable execs have repeatedly made clear, no casting decisions have been finalized — meaning that all these women are still in the audition phase. Without compelling footage, any of these women could be cut at any time.

Whether that played a part in the Salahis' now-notorious trip to the White House remains unclear.

Hours after the Salahis were seen arriving at the state dinner, photos of themselves, with the VIPs, were posted on their joint Facebook account. Also on the account were the viewing box photo and other images from inauguration weekend purporting to show them with talk show host Oprah Winfrey at the Kennedy Center and with Jack Black, Forest Whitaker and Gayle King.

“Tareq & Michaele were honored to be invited to President Obamas private viewing box at the Lincoln Memorial,” the Facebook posting from inauguration weekend reads. “Naturally this picture was taken after his departure. … The glass is not only bullet proof, but also electrified. Never try to touch this special protective glass.”

At 9:08 p.m. Tuesday, the following message appeared on the page: “Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!”

But a White House official said the couple were not invited to the dinner, not included on the official guest list and never seated at a table in the South Lawn tent.

It appears to be the first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House state dinner. The uninvited guests were in the same room as President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, although it is unknown whether they met the Obamas and the guest of honor.

The Secret Service said Thursday that it would do a “full review” of how the couple got into the dinner. The review is to be returned as soon as possible, the officials said.

“Everyone who enters the White House grounds goes through magnetometers and several other levels of screenings,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service. “That was the case with the state dinner last night. No one was under any risk or threat.”

Donovan said a preliminary internal investigation Wednesday identified “a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list.” He declined to give further details.

A woman describing herself as a publicist for the Salahis denied that they were interlopers. Pressed for details, Mahogany Jones sent a statement saying simply: “The Salahis were honored to be a part of such a prestigious event. … They both had a wonderful time.”

The Salahis, both in their 40s, appear to have a deep and longtime interest in celebrity. Their Facebook page includes numerous photos of them posing with famous people, including former president Bill Clinton, Richard Branson and others.

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