White House Blocks Congressional Party Crasher Testimony

In yet another example of a change of administrations not leading to a change in behavior, the Obama White House is refusing to allow Congress to question the social secretary on the matter of the “party crashers.”

Desiree Rogers, the White House Social Secretary, left after a preview for the state dinner last week at the White House. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times)

Desiree Rogers, the White House Social Secretary, left after a preview for the state dinner last week at the White House. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times)

The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week.

[…]

Earlier Wednesday at his regular briefing with reporters, Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Ms. Rogers would not testify. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ he said. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’

Mr. Gibbs also said the flap over the unauthorized intruders has prompted the White House to change its procedures; from now on, a representative of the social secretary’s office will be stationed at Secret Service checkpoints for major social events in case questions arise. The White House deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, conducted a review and issued a directive to the staff. “After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex,’’ Mr. Messina wrote in the memo, posted on the White House web site late Wednesday afternoon. “White House staff were walking back and forth outside between the check points helping guests and were available to the Secret Service throughout the evening, but clearly we can do more, and we will do more.’’

The memo was the first admission by the White House of failures on the part of its own staff, and it came as scrutiny intensified on the social office and Ms. Rogers, its director. The House Homeland Security Committee is conducting a hearing on Thursday into the security lapse; Representative Peter T. King of New York, who is the senior Republican on the panel, had wanted Ms. Rogers to testify and criticized the administration for not allowing her to be a witness.

White Houses have often tried to prevent top advisers to the president from testifying on Capitol Hill; the Bush administration worked assiduously to prevent Karl Rove, the top political strategist to former President George W. Bush, from talking to lawmakers under oath about the firing of federal prosecutors. That sparked an intense fight between the Bush administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Now, it is the Republicans’ turn to balk. Mr. King on Wednesday called Ms. Rogers’ decision not to testify “stonewalling” that would cause an “unnecessary confrontation with Congress.” “I don’t want the Secret Service to be taking the hit here, what went wrong was the responsibility of the White House,” he said, adding, “for them not to be here just raises real questions.”

It’s rather routine for a White House to refuse to allow Congress to question staff members — who are not subject to confirmation or oversight — under oath as a matter of principle. Congress generally balks but allows it to pass; that’s especially likely with both institutions controlled by the same political party, as is now the case.

Presumably, some sort of compromise will be worked out where Rogers offers information but does not testify under oath.  While the incident is no doubt an opportunity for grandstanding, Congress has a legitimate interest in conducting oversight into the operations of the Secret Service and ensuring the safety of the President of the United States.   Surely, there’s a way to do that without revealing the legitimately internal business of the Executive Office of the Presidency.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    I can’t see much of a fight developing over this. Worse, Ms. Rogers can do is reveal she isn’t quite organized well enough. Something already known given the press conference questions cited in the post.

    I wonder if she had anything to do with the diplomatic gifts Obama gave the Queen and British Prime Minister. She is apparently known as a last minute person and those gifts certainly did have a 10 pm Christmas eve thing about them.

    Marxists, communist admirers, and dilettantes. Obama is looking less like he has a staff and more like an infection.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Smoke and mirrors. Climategate is the most important story of the decade. This was just something to distract those who want to look behind the curtain. These people believe they can fool all the people all of the time.

  3. Wayne says:

    ZRIII
    True enough. However I disappointed with how this administration is so quick to blame others. Yes the Secret Service is responsible for security but as with any administration they do not have the final say on everything. They battle the administrations on need for security versus political needs and access to the President. There are many things they would like to do different especially at these large parties but are not allowed to by the President and his handlers.

    IMO if the President would have shared in the blame and say it was no big deal in reality mistakes happen and they will look into it and improve it, it would have gone away. However he threw another federal agency under the bus. The Dems saw a chance to go after another gung ho agency. The Reps saw a chance to nail the President with shirking responsibility once again.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Wayne, if one just looks at how this administration operates, it is easy to see they react rather than reason. Same thing with Walpin. The crash couple probably had an invite. They must have been on a list or I cannot believe they got in. Obama needed a weekend story to take the focus off real issues. Climategate being the main one considering his upcomming trip to Copenhagen. Thieves are always concerned about being stolen from. Liars believe they are being lied to. Cheats think they are being cheated. The left actually operates the way the accuse the right of operating. They do not understand honest government. This government has dirtied up Washington pretty badly. It is almost time for a bath.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    If I was the president I would be doing the most thorough investigation myself. After all we’re talking about a safety breach that could have put him at risk.

    On this one Congress should sit down and shut up.

    As others have said, Climategate is the issue at hand.

  6. Clovis says:

    What is this administration’s fascination with huge ugly belts?

  7. Wayne says:

    Re “After all we’re talking about a safety breach that could have put him at risk.”

    Not much more than most of these events put him at risk. These two couldn’t have done anymore than any of the other quests could have. They may have forgone the most rudimentary of FBI background check but not much more.

  8. 11B40 says:

    Greetings: especially “Clovis”

    I think the administration’s proclivity has something to do with big butts and small chests.

  9. Anon says:

    re: Clovis | December 3, 2009 | 06:52 pm
    re: 11B40 | December 3, 2009 | 07:42 pm

    This brilliant, trenchant analysis is most impressive.