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Monday, November 30, 2009

Crashergate, the Secret Service and the White House Social Secretary's Office

Some conservatives are working themselves into a lather over a report from Newsweek.

The White House staff member whose job was to supervise the guest list for state dinners and clear invitees into the events says she was stripped of most of her responsibilities earlier this year, prompting her to resign last June.

The account of Cathy Hargraves, who formerly served as White House "assistant for arrangements," raises new questions about whether changes that she says were made by President Obama's social secretary, Desiree Rogers, may have contributed to the security lapses that permitted Virginia socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi to crash the state dinner for India's prime minister last week and get themselves photographed with the president.

Hargraves tells Declassified in an exclusive interview that although she had originally been hired as a White House political appointee in 2001, she landed a new position on the White House residence staff in 2006 and was specifically detailed to the social office to work on state dinners.

Let's break this down. Hargraves worked on the Social Secretary's office in the White House. Her job was to look at a list for state dinners and make sure everyone that enters a state dinner is on the list. Hargraves was ushered out of her position, and apparently not replaced, during a reorganization of the new administration.

So, some conservatives are suggesting that the removal of this position was a contributing factor. I don't want to argue a hypothetical. That said, to try and focus this on the Social Secretary's office is absurd. The Secret Service has one responsibility, to protect the president. They are ultimately in charge of all lists for any White House State Dinner. They are ultimately responsible for letting anyone in to any State Dinner. Making the issue the Social Secretary's Office only turns the issue to the margins.

If the safety of the president revolves around a low level staffer in the White House, we're all really in trouble. If the Secret Service relies on a low level staffer in the White House to make sure those in the dinner are supposed to be there.

Let's also point out that the Secret Service always gets it right. What happened at the last state dinner has never happened before. It should be investigated. Those responsible should be fired and we should move on.

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