Usually privilege fights focus on testimony of White House staffers on conversations with President or military and state secrets. President Barack Obama, however, has invoked the separation of powers to block the testimony of Desiree Rogers, the White House Social Secretary, on the recent controversy over Michaele and Tareq Salahi. It appears that nothing less than Article II and the integrity of the Executive Branch is at stake in hearing from someone who arranges parties for the First Couple.
The White House is quickly trying to dampen the story by taking some blame and minimizing any unlawful conduct — clearly against the inclination of the Secret Service which was reportedly pushing for a criminal investigation. The White House issued a statement that dismissed allegations of illegality and stated that White House protocol “was either deficient or mismanaged” and that there were “honest misunderstandings and mistakes made by all parties involved.”
White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that it is the constitution not embarrassment that prevents Ms. Rogers from answering questions: “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.’’
The couple is also refusing to appear at a hearing this week. New reports indicate that the couple has been controversial for years, with unpaid debts, questionable claims, and family disputes, here.
Rogers has been controversial over her showcasing herself in fashion magazines and not adopting the traditional low-profile role of party planners at the White House.
Here is the exchange from the press conference:
Q. Has there been any concern about Desiree Rogers’ performance prior to this instance?
Mr. Gibbs: No.
Q. No one has questioned the president or told the president that she is a very last-minute person, poor planner?
Mr. Gibbs: No, I think you — you all have been to and seen, either whether you’re part of a pool, whether some of you’ve been to receptions, the remarkable work that they have done in pulling off a lot of events here. The first family is quite pleased with her performance, and I’ve heard nothing uttered of what you talked about.
Q. Well, what about the issues of her being in fashion spreads early on in the administration? Did you put the brakes on that? I mean, that is — it’s been raised. It’s now public. It’s — you know, you saw it in the magazines, her pictorials. You saw her on the cover of –
Mr. Gibbs: There’s a — I get Sports Illustrated in my house.
The brouhaha over how the Salahis managed to talk their way into the dinner has been a major distraction for the White House at a time when Mr. Obama is trying to focus on the economy, health care and the war in Afghanistan. At his briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Gibbs finally cut off the questions, declaring, “I’m going to get back to weightier topics, like 98,000 men and women in Afghanistan.’’
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