February 27th, 2013
09:24 PM ET
2 years ago

Exchange between Bob Woodward and White House official in spotlight

(CNN) - An email exchange between two old Washington hands – one, a longtime journalist, and the second, a source in the Obama administration – is at the center of a political controversy Thursday as two sides read the messages differently.

The veteran journalist is Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal and wrote a book about the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011. The Obama administration source is Gene Sperling, a senior economic aide to President Barack Obama and a veteran of the Clinton administration.

Gene Sperling will be Candy Crowley's guest on CNN's State of the Union, which runs Sunday at 9 a.m. and noon Eastern.

They traded emails, Woodward said, as he prepared to report that President Barack Obama was "moving the goal posts" around the forced spending cuts, known as the sequester.

That irked the White House, he said Wednesday on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," and led to the email exchange between Woodward and Sperling.

"They're not happy at all," with what he was reporting, Woodward said.

"It was said very clearly, 'You will regret doing this,' " he continued, intimating a threat.

Politico published the emails on Thursday, which a Democrat with knowledge of identified as between Woodward and Sperling. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not dispute that the published emails were accurate.

The part of the email from Sperling to Woodward that used the word "regret" said: "But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] that [Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."

"The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain [sic] with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start."

The two were trading words over the deal White House and Congress struck in the summer of 2011, an agreement to increase the federal debt limit in exchange for the spending cuts – a draconian measure which was never expected to take effect but are now set to trigger on Friday. Instead, the forced spending cuts were designed to incentivize further deficit negotiations.

Woodward reported that the White House was agreeing with the forced spending cuts to negotiate in the future a deal which replaced the broad and indiscriminate spending cuts in the sequester with more palatable cuts and without additional funds through tax increases.

Obama has stumped for a sequester replacement which balances spending cuts with additional tax revenue gained through eliminating tax loopholes.

"[W]hen the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts," Woodward wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post late last week.

"His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made."

He spoke by phone with Sperling, a conversation which was apparently heated.

After the email from Sperling, which included an apology for the sharp phone call, Woodward wrote back not taking offense, "You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion."

A White House official said Wednesday evening – after the CNN interview – that the email Woodward referenced "was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more. And Mr. Woodward responded to this aide's email in a friendly manner."

"Of course no threat was intended" in that email, the official said.

And former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted that the e-mails were "cordial."

But Woodward said on CNN that the White House objection to his reporting has no basis in facts.

"It's irrefutable. That's exactly what happened," he said. "I'm not saying this is a moving of the goal posts that was a criminal act or something like that. I'm just saying that's what happened."

Carney spoke about the emails specifically and the Obama administration's approach to working with the press on Thursday, saying "the president expects us to fully explain his policies, to answer questions about his positions and to make clear when we believe factual errors are being stated, which is what we do."

"Gene Sperling, in keeping with a demeanor I have been familiar with for more than twenty years, was incredibly respectful, referred to Mr. Woodward as his friend and apologized for raising his voice," Carney said. "I think you can not read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody."

Also see:

– Spending cuts mean Congress is grounded from military planes

–Congressional Republicans discussing plan giving Obama flexibility on cuts

– Polls: Obama holds upper hand over budget cuts

– Immigration detainee release under fire

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.


Filed under: Bob Woodward • Budget • Deficit • President Obama • TV-The Situation Room • White House
soundoff (1,002 Responses)
  1. Eric

    Not surprised in the slightest.

    February 27, 2013 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  2. Sam

    Does anyone care anymore. Both sides don't actually care anymore- they just don't want to someone else to win...it isn't even about one ideology winning out over another- just about making sure the other guys looks worse.

    Note to the original author: If you make 20,000,000 a year and only pay 10% (2,000,000) you already pay your fair share. Why don't the people using government programs (Medicaid, food stamps, public school, mortgage adjustments, etc) pay more? If you make $50,000 a year plus another $20,000 in federal program benefits, and pay $0 in taxes, where is the equality?

    February 27, 2013 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  3. we225

    Bob Woodward, like the Wolfster, is growing old. Move over and let Kate B. take over. She asks more informed questions. Bye the bye, where are the responses to this stupid segment anyway??

    February 27, 2013 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  4. Zach

    Isn't it sad that in a time when the country needs responsible adults out of the Republican party to stand up and fight with the democrats properly...... we instead have a bunch of childish buffoons who spend more time hating the president than they do bothering to govern.

    Obama is a mediocre president with some ok ideas and alot of bad ones. However, until the other side drops the massive rightward slant the party has taken they will continue to lose because the VAST VAST VAST majority of Americans aren't at the extremes, and acting like an extremist makes you look less and less like a viable political party, and more and more like the terrorists we've been dealing with for past 15 years or more.

    Republicans, please start acting like adults and stop worrying about getting primaried by crazy people.

    February 27, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  5. JVans

    Woodward is gonna get "Breitbarted"................people need to wake up!!

    February 27, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  6. Darrell

    Bob, you're time has passed. Fine, it was Obama's idea, but the GOP House could have, if they were so smart, voted it down. Obama can not sign a bill into law without Congress passing the bill first.

    February 27, 2013 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  7. bob

    You mean this nazi president threatened an upstanding citizen. First he goes after the 2nd amendment now he is after the 1st amendment.

    February 27, 2013 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  8. Martin

    Well, well. Chicago politics have moved into the White House. It's about time the media stopped accepting every word that Obama utters without critical analysis. Luckily, Mr. Woodward had the courage to tell the truth. At least one "inside reporter" is willing to report a negative story about the administration, and to carry out the important mission of the press: to report the facts to the people!

    February 27, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  9. Polymathicguy

    Deep down, most politicians are simply thugs.

    February 27, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  10. Jiovanna Louisa

    So Obama wants to look good to the public when in private talks he was willing to accept only cuts.We will learn the truth soon. Although he had a plan back when and now, saying something behind closed doors has equal weight. It's a game of chess and I assume he doesn't want to be publicly ridiculed. To be continued...Integrity is needed in Washington on both sides of the aisles. Too bad Americans rely only a two-party system that's so easy to manipulate by the plutocracy.

    February 27, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  11. rudedog@safelink.net

    These type of threats were the norm under the W Bush administration. If memory serves me right, Woodword was threatened with the W administration going after his bosses to fire him.
    Somebody fact check it.

    February 27, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  12. Mike from Illinois

    This is what we've come to – the White House threatening reporters like Bob Woodward for telling the truth. Are we a Third-world dictatorship now?

    February 27, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  13. Mark

    Wonder if Nixon ever threatened Mr. Woodward...

    February 27, 2013 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  14. callnews

    Well, it doesn't seem this White House falls far from the Watergate tree.

    February 27, 2013 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  15. Donna

    Well, there you have it. Lie for Obama and carry the Democrat Party line or you will regret it. Our country is in the hands of leftist union gangsters. And all it takes is $500,000 to buy a meeting with the Dear Corrupt Gangster.

    February 27, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  16. Keith

    Bob Woodward better keep one eye over his shoulder. You're going to regret what you've done was a phrase widely used in Chicago in the old days. It usually meant that you were probably going to soon get a visit from some very unpleasant people.

    February 27, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  17. M. Stobbart

    Good for Mr. Bob Woodward. Journalists must always hold the government to accountability. Freedom of the press is vital for democracy and without that threshold, all is lost. If one recalls – Mr. Woodward also held the Nixon government accountable and caused President's Nixon resignation. But, to be noted – all columns and opinions must pass the scrutiny of the newspaper's Editors and Publishers. I have noted that the Washington Post is quite fearless. Thank you.

    February 27, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  18. Dan

    Shocking surprise: Communists don't like having their methods questioned. If its for the people, or if its a balanced approach, who dares questions them.

    February 27, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  19. Steve Walsh

    Woodward cites threats from unnamed sources? Deepthroat 2.0? Per this article, Woodward admits the administration's requests for balanced spending cuts along with additional revenue are reasonable. The President "moved the goalposts" to achieve reasonable conclusions. Where is the news?

    February 27, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  20. Don

    One thing that is getting clear’er by the day,Team Obama is an Equal Opportunity Bully,and wether your far Left or Right

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  21. Ian

    Of course, what we are experiencing is the "Obama Deception". He is a mass media machine. Without media spin, he has no substance.

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  22. Anonymous Anonymous

    Hang In there Woodward!!! Keep up the good work!!! If you aren't receiving threats directly from Capital Hill then you aren't doing your job right!!!

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  23. Victory

    All hail King Obama!

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  24. alex lambrinides

    This is totally insane. Obama is truly the American dictator with the MSM carrying the water for him. Obama has probably committed dozens of impeachable acts and yet the MSM treat him like he is a God!

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  25. TJSpeller

    Is there any hope for America? How far this has nation fallen.

    February 27, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
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