TIME White House

Obama Dashes Adult Hopes on Halloween for Presidential M&Ms

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at Rhode Island College in Providence, R.I. on Oct. 31, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at Rhode Island College in Providence, R.I. on Oct. 31, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

Rhode Island college students disappointed, but the candy is not for them

President Barack Obama violated the first rule of Halloween Friday: If you bring candy, bring enough for the entire class.

Speaking at Rhode Island College at an event highlighting Democratic priorities for women, Obama referenced Friday evening’s annual trick-or-treat at the White House. “A good thing about being president is we never run out of presidential M&Ms,” Obama said, referencing the customized candy boxes handed out at the White House and aboard Air Force One bearing the president’s signature. “And so we’re going to be giving those out.”

When a member of the audience shouted that she wanted some candy, Obama was forced to dash her hopes. “You want some, is that what you said?” Obama asked as the crowd roared. “Only to kids,” he added to laughter.

In practice, the Presidential chocolate candies are a perk for VIPs, young and old, who visit the White House or ride on Air Force One. Sometimes even members of the White House press corps, who pay to travel with the President, are offered a box. The boxes have been known to end up for resale on online auction sites like Ebay.

Obama spoke wistfully of when his daughters were younger, saying Malia and Sasha are now too old to dress up for Halloween.

“That’s so sad. You know, I used to be – we’d dress them up, and we still have the pictures, and they’ll resent them later. But at the time, they were fine with it. They were so cute.”

Aside from the candy, children visiting the White House Friday night will also receive the Michelle Obama-approved dried fruit mix.

TIME Military

Fissure Opens Between Pentagon and White House Over Assad’s Fate

WASHINGTON (Oct. 30, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel holds a press briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon Oct. 30, 2014. DoD Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that internal Administration debate over what to do in Syria must be "honest" and "direct." DoD Photo / Sean Hurt

Hagel told Rice a lack of clarity is complicating U.S. efforts to combat ISIS

President Barack Obama declared in August 2011 that Syrian leader Bashar Assad must “step aside” for the good of his country after his forces had killed nearly 2,000 fellow citizens. More than three years later, with Assad still in power, the Syrian civil war has killed some 200,000 people and given Islamic extremists territory to occupy. That has led Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to warn the White House that the U.S. has to stop ignoring the Syrian dictator.

In a two-page memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice two weeks ago, Hagel said the lack of clarity is complicating U.S. efforts to combat the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, Pentagon officials say. The memo’s existence was first reported in the New York Times on Thursday.

It’s no secret that there’s much teeth-gnashing inside the Pentagon because of a belief that U.S.-led air strikes against ISIS have transformed the U.S. military into a Syrian air force, of sorts. And after more than three years of increasing violence—including Assad’s brazen use of chemical weapons against his own people that Obama vainly warned was a “red line” that he’d better not cross—frustration is mounting among the U.S. military.

They say plans to train 5,000 “moderate”—i.e., non-ISIS—Syrian rebels annually to fight the militants is complicated by the civil war inside Syria, even if much of the training is slated to take place outside the country. So long as Assad remains in power, they fear the moderate rebels’ attention could be diverted from fighting ISIS to battling Assad.

Hagel wouldn’t say much about his concerns. “This is a complicated issue,” he told reporters Thursday. “We are constantly assessing and reassessing and adapting to the realities of what is the best approach.”

Such internal debates are the “responsibility of any leader,” he added. “And because we are a significant element of this issue, we owe the President and we owe the National Security Council our best thinking on this. And it has to be honest and it has to be direct.”

Unsurprisingly, a White House spokesman agreed. “The President wants the unvarnished opinion of every member of his national-security team,” Josh Earnest told CNN on Friday. “That’s the way he thinks we are going to reach the best outcomes.”

TIME politics

How the Legend of the ‘October Surprise’ Came to Haunt D.C.

The Nov. 8, 1968, cover of TIME
The Nov. 8, 1968, cover of TIME TIME

Ebola and ISIS and oil prices, oh my!

You may have heard of the ‘October Surprise,’ a news story that bursts onto the public consciousness shortly before Election Day. Legend has it this sort of event can swing votes and sway electoral outcomes. The legend’s propagators — pundits, mostly — sift through the news all October long, searching for that one event worthy of being declared the October surprise. Only this October, the surprises kept ducking and bobbing the punditry like a game of Whac-A-Mole. No sooner than one story had made front page news, a rival story bumped it to page two. As October draws to an end, consider just a few of this season’s contenders.

Nominations kicked off in late September, with Barack Obama’s declaration of airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Ebola stole the show as a patient in Dallas transmitted the virus to two nurses. ISIS came roaring back with an assault on the Syrian village of Kobani, until the interagency tussle over Ebola quarantine protocols got top billing. Then there were the dark horses: Secret Service slip-ups, plummeting oil prices, “dark money” swamping the campaign trail. As late as Wednesday, a headline on CBS News pleaded, “Why aren’t gas prices the Democrats’ October surprise?”

“We’re up to our necks in them,” wrote syndicated columnist Bob Franken, a seasoned pundit who has previously tried to retire the phrase as an outdated relic from a cynical era. Surely there are more rational ways to interpret the news than to fixate on events that immediately precede election day, as if the voting public had the collective memory of a goldfish. So the legend’s refusal to go away raises an important question: Where did it come from and why won’t it die?

It has been traced to various sources. Former New York Times columnist William Saffire recalled hearing the phrase uttered by a Nixon aide in the run-up to the 1968 presidential election. The aide predicted that president Lyndon Johnson would announce an end to hostilities in Vietnam, thereby boosting public support for democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. At the close of October, the announcement came with great fanfare, taking the cover of TIME on November 8, as seen above.

It also appeared to confirm the Nixon aide’s suspicions, which by then were referred to in shorthand as the “October surprise,” according to Saffire. Historians have offered alternative narratives, some tracing the invention of the phrase to George H.W. Bush on the 1980 campaign trail.

Whoever coined the phrase, it didn’t come into popular use until 1980, when Reagan supporters began invoking it with rising alarm. Jimmy Carter, they insisted, would spring an announcement on the public shortly before election day. The announcement would relate to some modest policy achievement overseas. Carter would inflate its significance and rally voters to his side. They called it the “October surprise” and an early instance of that use was recorded by TIME in the July 28, 1980, issue.

It might have ended there, but the phrase resurfaced again in September. “The Reaganites talk nervously, and sarcastically, of an ‘October surprise,’” read one account from a TIME reporter. By October, it had become a common refrain. “All the Republicans now believe” it, read one story in TIME. A second story in the same issue noted that Republicans were “setting aside much of their warchest and buying up television time in advance in order to respond to an ‘October surprise’ by the President.”

With such a dramatic build-up, it’s no wonder that the phrase stuck after Jimmy Carter announced, as if on cue, the impending release of 52 American hostages from Iran. However, the release wouldn’t take place until after the inauguration, spawning competing theories that the announcement was timed to help Carter, while the release date was timed to help Reagan.

After that, the phrase took on a conspiratorial hue, referring to any event staged by a campaign to manipulate voters. Through gradual use, however, the phrase lost its potency. Today, it can refer to any surprise at all that falls within the calendar month of October. In short, it became a superstition. Anyone who has a Rube-Goldberg-like ability to connect world events to the electoral prospects of candidate so-and-so can play along. This month, the game was irresistible.

Read TIME’s 1968 cover story about Lyndon Johnson’s original October Surprise, here in the archives: The Bombing Halt

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: White House Computers Hacked

Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government are suspected of breaching White House computers

Russian hackers are suspected of breaching White House computers over the past few weeks, temporarily disrupting services.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House computer system had been infiltrated, but added that there’s no evidence the hackers had access to classified information or damaged any systems. The White House learned of the breach two to three weeks ago.

The FBI, Secret Service, and NSA are all investigating the breach which shut off Intranet or VPN access. The hack, however, did not manage to down the email system.


TIME White House

White House Computer Networks Hacked

Early morning sunrise is seen over the White House in Washington, Oct. 28, 2014.
Early morning sunrise is seen over the White House in Washington, Oct. 28, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Russian hackers suspected

Hackers believed to be employed by the Russian government breached White House computer networks in recent weeks, temporarily disrupting services.

Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported there was no evidence that hackers had breached classified networks or that any of the systems were damaged. Intranet or VPN access was shut off for a period but the email system was never downed. The breach was discovered two to three weeks ago, after U.S. officials were alerted to it by an unnamed ally.

“On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system,” a White House official told the Post. “This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it’s always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks.”

Cybersecurity firms in recent weeks have identified NATO, the Ukrainian government and U.S. defense contractors as targets of Russian hackers thought to be working for the government.

[The Washington Post]


TIME White House

LIVE: President Obama Makes White House Statement on Ebola

The president addresses the nation on his administration's response to the Ebola crisis

TIME White House

Joe Biden, Top Obama Officials Get Cheap Family Vacations at Federal Log Cabin

Interior Department launches investigation after TIME inquiries

Correction appended Oct. 29

Vice President Joe Biden, his wife and 11 other family members spent four nights on vacation this August at a lakeside log cabin overlooking the snowcapped peaks of Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park.

The four-bedroom Brinkerhoff Lodge, where they stayed, is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Under a policy adopted in 1992, after controversy over VIPs using the cabin for vacations, the National Park Service banned purely recreational activities by federal employees at the property, restricting its use to “official purposes.” But in recent years, the park service has interpreted that same rule so broadly as to again allow senior officials to take cheap vacations in Grand Teton with friends and family.

While visiting the park, Biden held no events, kept no public schedule, and his staff initially declined to answer a reporter’s question about where he spent the night. Last week, after TIME uncovered documents confirming his stay at the lodge, Biden’s office said the Vice President planned to personally reimburse the park $1,200 for “renting the Brinkerhoff” for his family’s vacation.

Under park service rules, the lodge is maintained for use by federal employees for “training and official conferences” and for those on “temporary duty in the park.” In practice, the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, who has discretion over whether to demand payment for the lodge, has interpreted those rules to allow extended family vacations if there is an element of official business involved.

A Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman, Jackie Skaggs, said last week the Biden family visit met the internal criteria, since the Vice President received an official park briefing and tour while staying at the lodge. “With few, if any, exceptions, officials who stay at the Brinkerhoff are given in-depth briefings and/or issue tours,” she wrote in an email to TIME.

But that explanation may not stand. In response to further questions from TIME, the Interior Department said Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into how the park service has managed the Brinkerhoff. “In light of inconsistencies in billing practices and ambiguity in the policy at the park, the Interior Department has directed the National Park Service to conduct an immediate review of compliance with the policy and related recordkeeping and to seek reimbursement, where appropriate, for use of the Brinkerhoff,” wrote National Park Service spokeswoman April Slayton in an email to TIME.

A Favorite Vacation Spot

Biden is not the only senior member of the Obama Administration who has taken advantage of the Brinkerhoff in recent years for family vacations or getaways with friends. Records obtained by TIME through the Freedom of Information Act show that at least four cabinet-level officials, a deputy White House chief of staff and the director of the Park Service have made use of the lodge with friends and family since 2011.

  • Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson stayed three nights in 2011 with her husband, and five other people, including a person listed as a friend. She received a tour of a new air quality monitoring station, according to a park official.
  • Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled there in 2012 for eight nights with his wife, his daughter-in-law, three grandchildren, two other adults and his son, Illinois State Sen. Darin LaHood. He attended the Department of Transportation grant award event, according to LaHood’s office.
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan stayed there for six nights with his wife and children in 2013. He attended a nearby roundtable with tribal leaders and an event at a local school, according to the Department of Education.
  • Former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who oversaw the National Park Service, stayed there with his family for three nights in 2011. His office did not return a call about the purpose of his visit.
  • Former White House Special Advisor Phil Schiliro also used the lodge for one night in August of 2011 with his wife and one other person. The White House did not return emails about the purpose of his visit.
  • National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, his wife, his son and his son’s girlfriend stayed for five days in August of 2012. The park service said he had official business on two of the five days. ” The director took personal time during the remaining days,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Under federal policy, family members may accompany government employees who travel on official business. “Family members’ travel costs and incidental expenses are not typically reimbursed by the federal government, although they may stay in the accommodations reserved for the traveling employee, as long as any additional costs incurred as a result of the stay are covered by personal funds,” wrote National Park Service spokeswoman Slayton.

Confusion Over The Rules

The offices of several officials who stayed at Brinkerhoff, including the Vice President, Duncan and LaHood, said there was initial confusion over their need to pay for extended stays at the lodge with family members.

Under National Park Service policy, “a bill of collection will be prepared” for those who visit the Brinkerhoff on “project related travel that will be billed to another entity.” The Freedom of Information Act request returned no documents showing that any bills had been issued. The park service also produced no records of official stays at the Brinkerhoff between 2000 and 2010.

A spokesperson for the Vice President, who declined to be named, said Biden’s office was still waiting for an invoice from the park two months after the stay, when TIME made inquiries. “The office understood from the park service that personal use would cost the local per diem rate,” the spokesperson said, referring to the a schedule of overnight hotel costs maintained by the General Services Administration for a single hotel room. Biden’s office said the Vice President will now personally pay $1,200 for the four nights, a figure that includes an extra $10 per night for each additional member of his family.

That cost, which assumes that a four-bedroom lodge is comparable to a single hotel room, is far below market rate for other nearby accommodations, especially during peak summer tourism season. At the nearby Jackson Lake Lodge, a two-bedroom cabin that sleeps four without a view of the lake, averages $250 a night in August. Nearby homes outside the park can rent for more than $1,000 per night during the summer.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education says the park service “never conveyed” to Duncan that he would have to pay for the non-official portion of his family’s nearly week-long stay. “Secretary Duncan requested an invoice for his family’s stay and will reimburse the park fully for the time he was on personal leave,” the official said.

A spokesperson for LaHood, who is now a policy adviser at a law firm, said he made a donation to the park at the time of around $250 after consulting with Salazar. LaHood has since asked the park if he is obligated to pay more.

With the exception of a $150 check from Salazar, the park service has no record of any payment from other officials for their stays, though Skaggs said charges are sometimes directly billed to other government offices and that the park doesn’t maintain records of those transactions.

There is evidence, however, that the park service is now trying to improve its management of the Brinkerhoff, at least on the public relations front. After being contacted by TIME, a computer with an IP address registered to the National Park Service made alterations to the Wikipedia page for the Brinkerhoff Lodge.

A phrase describing the property as a “vacation lodge” was changed to “historic lodge.” A phrase noting the Brinkerhoff’s history as a destination for “VIP housing” was deleted.

A Controversial History

Located on the banks of Jackson Lake with views of the glacier-strewn peak of Mount Moran, the Brinkerhoff Lodge was built in 1947 by the family of Zachary Brinkerhoff, a prominent Wyoming oil company executive. It features a two-story living room, a full-length deck, Western-style chandeliers and interior walls lined with log or knotty pine paneling.

After it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s, the lodge became one of several “VIP” properties across the country, which were used by presidents, members of Congress and government bureaucrats. The park service curtailed their use following public outcry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “The Secretary has concluded that the public interest will be better served by having the four existing VIP accommodations used only for official purposes,” reads a memorandum by former Parks Service director James M. Ridenour, which remains in effect. “As of February 10, 1992, these sites will no longer be available as VIP accommodations.”

All but the Brinkerhoff were eventually converted to other uses. The Bodie Island Cottage, a three-bedroom lodge that sleeps 11 just off the beach below the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina, was turned into a ranger station. Little Cinnamon House in Virgin Islands National Park, where former President Jimmy Carter stayed for nearly two weeks after his 1980 electoral defeat, was turned into employee housing, and “is currently in disrepair and uninhabited” according to park service officials. Camp Hoover in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, once a favorite of members of Congress with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was converted to a museum in 1996.

The park service maintains that it is cheaper for the federal government to house officials at the Brinkerhoff on official travel because it costs less than nearby hotels.

“Historic structures are better maintained when they are actively used and the park has determined that seasonal use of the Brinkerhoff will better protect this valuable historic facility,” Skaggs said. “By allowing officials and governmental employees access to occasional overnight stays in the Brinkerhoff, the park is able to fund the long-term maintenance of this historic structure.”

She added that the fees, when collected from stays at the Brinkerhoff, are earmarked for preserving the building.

Read next: Sources: Hunter Biden Leaves Navy After Drug Test

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Phil Schiliro’s former title. He was an assistant to the President and special advisor.

TIME White House

Former White House Counsel Takes Name Out of Running for Attorney General

Nominating Kathy Ruemmler would have invited questions on advice she gave the President on an array of sensitive topics

Former White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler has removed her name from consideration to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General, a White House official confirmed Friday.

Ruemmler, once one of President Barack Obama’s closest aides, was seen as the front-runner for the nomination, which would have required Senate confirmation. Obama asked Ruemmler to consider taking the job in September, shortly after Holder informed Obama he intended to step down after nearly six years on the job. “She took the step this week at her own volition,” the official said.

Regardless of the outcome of next month’s midterm elections, nominating Ruemmler would have exposed her to questions on the nature of the advice she had given the president on an array of sensitive topics. The White House announced earlier this month that the president would not seek to announce a replacement for Holder before the elections.

Ruemmler was one of the lead prosecutors in the government’s case against former Enron executives and worked as a white-collar defense lawyer. She joined the Obama administration in 2009, rising to become the White House Counsel, the president’s in-house lawyer, before stepping down earlier this year.

“Kathy is someone who always tells it like it is, is a world class lawyer, and remains a trusted advisor to the president,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Anyone who knows Kathy knows she has impeccable judgment, extraordinary foresight, and is a formidable force. She is also as selfless as they come, and the president is proud to call her a close friend.”

The official said Obama had not yet decided on a successor to Holder, and has not made a determination of whether to announce the nomination during the lame-duck period after the election or after the new Congress is seated in January.

TIME justice

Report: Investigators Mistreated Monica Lewinsky in Clinton Probe

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky speaks to attendees at Forbes Under 30 Summit at the Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pa on October 20, 2014. Star Shooter—Star Shooter/MediaPunch/IPx

According to a December 2000 report thought sealed from public view

Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was mistreated in 1998 by authorities who were looking into her alleged affair with former President Bill Clinton, according to a newly released government report from two years after the incident.

The report, thought to be sealed from the public but recently obtained by the Washington Post via a Freedom of Information Act request, details a 12-hour meeting in January 1998 between Lewinsky, FBI agents and prosecutors.

Lewinsky had been scheduled to meet with Linda Tripp, a White House secretary, at the food court of a Washington, D.C.-area mall. Instead, she was ambushed by federal agents and prosecutors. According to Lewinsky’s version of events — detailed in a rare public appearance earlier this week — when she asked to see an attorney, she was told her cooperation would be worth less if she spoke to counsel and told she could receive some 27 years in prison for allegedly lying about her affair with the President in an affidavit, among other crimes.

The findings vindicate her side of how things played out that day and, the report found, call into question ethical decisions made during the aggressive questioning of Lewinsky and her mother by lawyers working for Ken Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel.

[The Washington Post]


White House Dogs Return to Duty After Scuffle With Intruder

Adorable and ready for duty

The two Secret Service dogs that brawled with a man who allegedly jumped over the White House fence Wednesday evening have been cleared to return to duty, the agency said Thursday.

Hurricane and Jordan suffered minor bruising from the incident. A video posted by Fox News shows the alleged intruder, Dominic Adesanya kicking Jordan before being tackled by Hurricane. Adesanya then proceeded to repeatedly punch Hurricane, according to a criminal complaint. Adesanya has been charged with two counts of assaulting a K-9 police officer—a felony—as well as resisting arrest, making threats and unlawful entry.

Hurricane and Jordan returned to work on Thursday. When they’re not patrolling the White House grounds, Hurricane likes playing with his Kong Toy and Jordan enjoys taking strolls.

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