President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama issued a statement on Friday thanking their longtime friend for a “terrific job” in helping to make sure the White House “truly is the People’s House.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs denied that Rogers, part of a group of Chicagoans who came to Washington with Obama, had been forced out.
A glamorous former businesswoman who assumed the duties of planning White House social events, Rogers told the Chicago Sun-Times she would leave next month, calling it “a good time for me to explore opportunities in the corporate world.”
Her departure will be among the first from high-profile administration posts since Obama took office in January 2009.
It comes amid media speculation that Obama may eventually shake up his inner circle, which has drawn criticism for his fall in popularity and some of the political stumbles that have stalled his legislative agenda.
Rogers came under heavy fire, including calls for her resignation, after a celebrity-seeking Virginia couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, managed to slip into the November 24 White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without formal invitations.
The U.S. Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting the president and his family, has taken blame for letting the socialite couple get past layers of security.
Some Republicans had said Rogers could have prevented the incident by stationing someone from her office at the gate with Secret Service agents.
“NOT BEEN ASKED TO LEAVE”
Obama, who was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Michaele Salahi at the event, said he was angry when he found out the couple had crashed the dinner, calling it a “screw up” he vowed would never happen again. The couple contended in a television interview that they were invited guests.
The Obamas, in their statement, made no mention of the reason for Rogers’ departure. “We thank her again for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors,” they said.
Asked whether Rogers was being pushed out, Gibbs said, “She’s not been asked to leave.” As for whether the Salahi incident played a role, he said, “I don’t think it did, no.”
Rogers, 50, known for her fashion sense, became an instant celebrity on the Washington social scene, posing for a photo spread in Vogue entitled “Life of the Party” weeks after she took up her new job.
But her celebrity status seemed to work against her after the Salahi incident. Some critics, noting that she attended the state dinner as a guest, suggested she might have been too focused on mingling with VIPs to do her job properly.
Rogers was quoted telling Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet it had been “an honor and a privilege to serve this president and first lady, in what has certainly been a historic presidency.”