Saturday, November 28, 2009

Party Crashers Met Obama

Washington (CNN) -- A couple who allegedly crashed this week's state dinner at the White House met President Obama in a reception line at the event, a White House official told CNN on Friday.

A White House photograph taken Tuesday evening shows Michaele Salahi, wearing a gold-accented red sari, clasping her hands around Obama's right hand as her smiling husband, Tareq, looks on. The dinner was held for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is smiling next to the president in the photo.
An investigation into Tareq and Michaele Salahi has found that Secret Service agents did not follow protocol at a security checkpoint, the Secret Service said.

"The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the State Dinner on Tuesday," the agency said in a statement Friday. "The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list."

The Salahis, who are aspiring reality TV stars, made news when they showed up at Tuesday's state dinner.

The White House says the Salahis were not invited, but their lawyer, Paul W. Garner, "states emphatically that the Salahis did not 'crash' this event," according to a statement from the couple's publicist, Mahogany Jones.

The Secret Service's statement says that although the Salahis went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, "they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely."

"That failing is ours," the statement said.
The investigation continues and "appropriate measures have been taken to ensure this is not repeated," the agency said.

Also Friday, two Secret Service agents visited a Virginia winery to say they wanted to question the couple, according to the winery's manager.

Diane Weiss, manager at the Oasis Winery in Hume, Virginia, said the agents wanted to speak with the Salahis. Weiss said she didn't know their whereabouts.

The Warren County Report, a local newspaper, quoted Weiss as saying the agents said they wanted to speak with the couple and not arrest them. It also quoted her as saying that the Salahis live in Linden, Virginia, but receive mail at the winery.
And the agents said it was "imperative" that investigators speak with the couple and that they would "take whatever action" is necessary if they did not, the paper quoted Weiss as saying.

Weiss told CNN that the newspaper quoted her accurately, but she declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, court records have revealed a more complete picture of the Salahis, who have left an extensive paper trail in federal bankruptcy and state court filings.
They are named in at least 16 different civil suits in Fauquier County, Virginia, near Washington, sometimes as plaintiffs, sometimes as defendants. Family members have sued the county and each other. The family winery, Oasis Winery, has sued Michaele Salahi.

They did not respond to CNN requests for comment Thursday about their legal history or the White House dinner.
"At this time the Salahis will not make any formal comments regarding the rumors and media speculation surrounding the White House State Dinner," Jones, their publicist, said in a statement.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi were engaged in a long court battle with his parents over the winery. Tareq Salahi sued his mother, Corinne, court records show, and the suit was dismissed.

The mother sued Tareq Salahi and the case went to trial. The outcome is not clear
from a Virginia courts Web site. Tareq and Michaele Salahi won control of the winery in 2007, but it has run into debt since then.

Oasis Winery filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February of this year, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records in the Eastern District of Virginia. Tareq Salahi is listed as company president in the filing. Listed creditors include the IRS, Fauquier County, the state of Virginia, several banks and American Express Corp., among others. The company claims about $335,000 in assets and $965,000 in liabilities.

Russian Train Derailment Terrorism?

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Investigators probing the derailment of an express train in Russia say they have found "elements of an explosive device" at the site.
The derailment killed at least 26 people and injured about 100, but there was no immediate word on who or what group might have been behind the action.

The investigative committee of the Russian prosecutor's office said Saturday police found "a crater with a depth of about 1.5 meters on the railroad bed" and traces of a bomb.
"Criminology experts have come to a preliminary conclusion that there was an explosion of an improvised explosive device equivalent to seven kilos of TNT," Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov said. He was quoted by Interfax, the Russian news agency.

Several leads are being pursued now. A criminal case has been opened under Article 205 ("terrorism") and Article 22 ("illegal possession or storage of weapons or explosives") of the Russian Criminal Code."
A total of 681 people -- 20 of them employees -- were on the Nevsky Express as it traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Friday night. The Nevsky Express is Russia's fastest train, equivalent to a bullet train.
The crash happened at 9:25 p.m. (1825 GMT) when the train was 280 kilometers (174 miles) from St. Petersburg, Russian state radio said.

At least three carriages carrying more than 130 people derailed and turned on their sides, and emergency workers were working to free anyone who may still be trapped inside.
The crash happened 44 minutes after another high-speed train, the Sapsan, had successfully traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the same rails, a representative of the Russian Transport Police said during a video conference call Saturday.
In August 2007, an explosion on the tracks derailed the Nevsky Express, injuring 60 people in what authorities called a terrorist act. Some 27,000 passengers on 60 trains were facing delays Saturday as a result of the accident, Russian State TV reported.


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