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Ga. tourists surprised to crash White House breakfast

WASHINGTON — It wasn't a state dinner, and they didn't crash it on purpose.

Still, a Georgia couple who showed up at the White House a day early for a tour somehow wound up at an invitation-only breakfast with President Barack Obama and the first lady. It left the White House once again explaining how people who were not on an event guest list wound up being ushered into the presidential mansion anyway.

The improbable adventure of Harvey and Paula Darden, Obama supporters from Hogansville, Ga., took place on Veterans Day, two weeks before Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi infamously crashed the Obamas' state dinner for the prime minister of India.

The Dardens mistakenly showed up a day early for a tour scheduled through their congressman.

The White House and Secret Service both said the Dardens went through the appropriate security screenings and were allowed into the breakfast as a courtesy because there were no public tours the day they arrived.

That explanation was news to Harvey Darden, 67, a retired pharmacist, who said he and his wife never were told about the breakfast. They thought they were simply starting their tour until they were ushered into the East Room, offered a buffet spread and told they would be meeting the president.

"The further we got into the White House, the more surprised we were," Darden said. "My wife looked at me and I looked at her, and I said, 'You know, I don't know if we're in the right place.' "

They approached a White House aide with their concern that they had veered off course but were told to "just go with the flow," 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.

The Dardens served themselves at the buffet and took their seats. Shortly thereafter, Barack and Michelle Obama arrived and began talking and getting photographs with guests at each table.

Ga. tourists surprised to crash White House breakfast 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 9:58pm]

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