We’re having a bit of a debate here in the office about whether the State Dinner party crasher story is just a funny holiday weekend weirdness story or a genuine security issue. On the one hand, you’ve got Rep. Peter King (R-NY) saying that the fact that the crashers had to go through the metal detectors and conventional weapons screening was ‘incidental’. “They could have had anthrax on them. They could have grabbed a knife from the dining room table.” I’m willing to put that down as pretty standard Pete King nonsense. (I’m actually pleasantly surprised, given the climate post-Ford Hood, that there’s been no mention from the right that the male party crasher appears to have an Arabic or perhaps Turkic name. But perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate.)
But I’m on the side of thinking that it actually is kind of a big deal. We pay a lot of money, for good reason, to keep the White House and the president’s person, super secure. And the idea that these two could just walk right in without even being on a White House wave-in list, let alone the invite list for a State Dinner. Not having weapons isn’t the only issue.
What do you think?
Late Update: One issue that came up in our intra-office conversation is that on the campaign trail and in public events the president routinely gets in close proximity to unscreened people. But that’s only partly true. On the campaign trail, on like a rope line or something, the president’s body is closely guarded by Secret Service agents right next to him. At least in theory, and I assume in fact, the agents are prepared for an unexpected lunge from a member of the crowd with no firearm or other weapon. But the situation at a state dinner is very different. It’s a much more casual atmosphere. And I doubt the president has body people right next to him like he does in public. I was actually at the White House and met with the president in a fairly small gathering only a month or so ago. And it was just about eight journalists, three or four members of the president’s senior staff and the president — at least in our immediate proximity. (Each of the guests was a fairly well-known journalist and all we pre-screened by the Secret Service — the standard procedure when you give your date of birth, social security number, etc.) I have not the slightest doubt that had any of the reporters done something out of bounds a bunch of Secret Service agents would have swarmed out of the woodwork in seconds. But it’s still quite different from what you see outside the White House when the president moves around with a bubble of guys in black suits and earpieces with their eyes on everyone. And I would imagine the situation at a state dinner is much more like our experience in that small gathering than that.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.