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Before Salahis, another uninvited couple had White House breakfast

world Updated: Dec 17, 2009 12:08 IST

Weeks before a socialite couple gate crashed the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, another uninvited couple attended a lavish breakfast there and met President Barack Obama and the first lady.

But the White House is simply calling it a "nice gesture" and has been explaining how this incident is nothing like the breach of security that took place when Tareq and Michaele Salahi infamously crashed the Nov 24 state dinner.

The Georgia couple, Harvey and Paula Darden, who arrived at the White House on Veterans Day, a day early for a tour that was booked by their congressman, and were led into a lavish invitation-only breakfast after being screened by the Secret Service called it "dumb luck".

The White House says it put the Dardens through the appropriate screenings and criminal background checks before allowing them to go to the Veterans Day breakfast because there were no tours scheduled that day.

CNN quoted Harvey Darden, 67, as saying he was standing outside the White House security booth with his 62-year-old wife when he heard: "Mr. and Mrs. Darden, you are cleared to come in." They were led directly to the grand East Room where there was a buffet and a crowd of people, some in military uniforms, some in suits.

Darden says he began to get the sinking feeling that this was not the usual tour of the White House. He went to talk to a White House aide telling the staffer that he may be in the wrong place.

The staffer, who Darden did not know by name, asked him if he was a veteran. When Darden said he told the staffer he was a Navy veteran, the staffer told him to stay for the breakfast. "He said, 'Go with the flow,'" Darden said was quoted as saying by CNN.

The Dardens ate breakfast and then were startled when Obama entered the room. They got a chance to meet the president, the first lady and the vice president, Darden said.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said agents performed the same screening procedures on the Dardens that were used for other breakfast guests. They checked the Dardens' names and did a criminal background check, steps that were not taken for the Salahis at the Nov 24 state dinner.