Smoot replacing Rogers as White House social secretary

By Ric Bohy

February 28, 2010 at 12:04pm

White House social secretary and Obama hometown friend Desiree Rogers is leaving her job amid speculation that her departure is fallout from a pair of gate-crashers who made it into the Obamas’ first state dinner in November.

Rogers will stay during the transition for her replacement, Julianna Smoot, who was quickly appointed deputy assistant to the president and social secretary, according to The Washington Post.

Smoot comes to the job from her position as chief of staff for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

While the Obamas took pains to praise Rogers “for the terrific job she’s done as the White House social secretary” and wished her “all the best in her future endeavors,” an unnamed administration official quoted by the Post said, “Once the state dinner deal went down, people who had other political agendas started micromanaging every part of her business.”

On Nov. 24, while VIPs gathered to honor India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, a Virginia couple named Tareq and Michaele Salahi made it through White House security and waded into the throng. They were not on the guest list, but it turned out that no one on Rogers’ staff was checking names at the door.

The Salahis got close enough to Vice President Joe Biden and Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to have photographs taken with them. Michaele Salahi posted the photos on her Facebook page.

In the days that followed the alarming security breach, it was reported that the Salahis were joining the cast of the Bravo TV reality show, “The Real Housewives of DC.”

The Secret Service accepted responsibility for the fiasco, but Rogers still took heat for the lack of a guest checklist at the White House door. She was also sniped at for attending the dinner as a guest instead of personally directing the evening’s events.

Rogers, who holds a Harvard MBA, was the first African American to hold her White House job, and previously served as director of the Illinois lottery, president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas in Chicago, and had worked for Allstate Insurance Co.

Friday, in announcing Rogers’ departure, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said she had not been asked to leave, adding, “She’s decided it’s time to go back to do other things she loved.”

When asked if the Salahi caper had anything to do with her resignation, Gibbs said he didn’t “think” so.

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