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Public Statements

CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The couple who allegedly showed up uninvited to last week's White House state dinner for the Indian prime minister is now breaking their silence, insisting they did not crash the party.

White House officials disagree, saying flatly that they were not on the invitation list. One invitation is not in dispute. The couple has been formally invited to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, as it investigates the apparent security breach.

Mississippi Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson is the chairman of that panel. He's joining us now live.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

Have the Salahis agreed to testify?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, we have every reason to believe that they will be at the hearing on Thursday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you -- well, do you have a contingency plan if they decide not to testify, for example, offering them immunity from prosecution if they testify?

THOMPSON: Well, there are a number of things that we can offer. But we will talk to them tomorrow through their attorney to make sure that we're on the same page.

Our goal is to try to get as much information about what occurred at this state dinner as possible and how this security breach happened. The White House should be the most secure home in America. And this breach brought a real vulnerability to light.

BLITZER: The head of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, we're told he has agreed to testify, is that right?

THOMPSON: That's correct. He will be our first witness at the hearing.

BLITZER: What about the social secretary at the White House, Desiree Rogers? You have invited her to testify as well. Will she appear?

THOMPSON: Well, the Republican committee members have invited them, but I understand just recently the White House indicated she will not be in attendance.

BLITZER: Do you want her to testify?

THOMPSON: Well, no.

From my standpoint, White House security is the responsibility of the Secret Service. And I would not want to mix the security responsibility for the White House with other issues. This is strictly, from my vantage point as chair, a security issue. BLITZER: Because there's been some criticism that someone from the social secretary's office should have been together with the Secret Service at that first line of entry to make sure that only people on the list were actually allowed to go forward. You've heard that criticism.

THOMPSON: Well, I have heard that criticism. And to some degree, there is validity.

But from the legal standpoint and from the protection standpoint, it's the Secret Service. They're provided this list. Those individuals who were on the list will have to show identification. They should have been vetted. So, there is a strict procedure that's been followed for years as to how people get into White House events.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the Secret Service right now?

THOMPSON: I absolutely have confidence in it.

Men and women do well. They serve us well. Millions of people are screened down through the years. But I think this particular situation has identified a vulnerability. Whether it was human error or somebody who found a weakness in our system, our job as legislators is to look at it and make sure that it doesn't happen again.

You oversee the Secret Service, because you oversee the Department of Homeland Security, your oversight responsibilities. Ron Kessler, who has written a new book on the Secret Service, the journalist, says that there's been a 400 percent increase in the threats against President Obama since he took office. Is that your information as well?

THOMPSON: Well, that's not my information. I'm told that the threat level right now with President Obama is about the same for any other president. However, while he was candidate Obama, there was a significant increase in threats at that point.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to just ask you one quick question on Afghanistan, because I have spoken with a lot of members of the Congressional Black Caucus who aren't very happy with President Obama right now for deciding to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Is the president making the right decision tonight?

THOMPSON: Well, it's a very difficult decision. He's commander in chief. I look forward to his presentation. And I hope he makes his case where he can get the majority of the members of Congress to support him.

BLITZER: You're with him on this, or you're not?

THOMPSON: Well, I'm with him, but I reserve the right to listen to his presentation.

It's difficult. Obviously, I'm privy to a lot of other information, but I have to go home to my constituents. And they right now are not very happy about this war.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. We will be covering the hearing on Thursday. Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: One thing we know about any plans for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, they will include an exit strategy. We're told by White House officials the president will discuss that later tonight. A report on how that might -- repeat -- might work, that's coming up.

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