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White House gate crashers keep mum on the Hill

A celebrity hounding couple accused of crashing the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared before a Congressional panel Wednesday but as expected refused to answer questions.

Invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, Tareq and Michaele Salahi refused to answer questions during an appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee amid a criminal investigation of the Nov 24 incident.        

"We reiterate that, on advice of counsel, we respectfully invoke our right to remain silent and will decline to answer any questions surrounding the circumstances around the events of Nov 24, 2009," Tareq Salahi said in his opening statement before a packed committee room full of media and onlookers.        

When asked about the events surrounding their infiltration of the invite-only affair, Salahi likewise refused to reply.        

The gatecrashing incident has sparked some partisan infighting among the committee’s members. Republicans have argued that White House social secretary Desiree Rogers should come before the panel to testify about changes to social protocol that may have allowed the Salahis to gain access to the White House.        

Republicans on the committee have said the White House is blocking Rogers from testifying in order to hide what may have been a gaffe on their part.        

"I don’t know what the White House is trying to hide, I don’t know why they won’t allow Desiree Rogers to testify," said the panel’s ranking Republican Peter King. "It sets the wrong climate and the wrong tone and it is inexcusable."        

While most Democrats on the panel stayed mum about Rogers, one centrist Democrat joined Republican calls for Rogers to testify. "I agree with my Republican colleagues; Ms. Rogers should come and tell the third side of the story," said Chris Carney.        

Several lawmakers spent their time taking shots at the Salahis, after they refused to answer questions.        

Republican Dan Lungren took issue with a portion of the Salahi’s opening statement in which they said they support law enforcement personnel.        

"To have engaged in conduct that undercut the seriousness of our role to protect the president as some some sort of reality TV stunt is an affront to the seriousness of the issues that are before us today," Lungren said.        

The Salahis’ attorney has said that the couple believed they were invited to an arrival ceremony for Manmohan Singh and the White House receiving line for the dinner. The couple was auditioning for a reality television show, "The Real Housewives of DC."        

–Indo-Asian News Service

By Arun Kumar

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