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. G-Man

    what a self serving nonesense. WW thinks he matters. He and his ideas are old and irrelevant to today's national debate. He needs to move on before he embaraces himself and others that rispected him in the past.

    February 28, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  2. Vic of New York

    Bob Woodward has been sliding into irrelevance for years. – much like CNN – reaching at straws to try to fabricate "Breaking News".

    If he's truly the big boy portrayed in the movie ATPM, I would think he would shake this off and march on. Maybe he's not, really.

    Total disclosure? I support the President 100% I've seen my buying power go down over the last two decades while too many execs are sporting exotic cars. I have absolutely no issue with making the "Pretty Boys" pay their share of the toll, and no one can convince me this actually isn't good for the economy. It's the best thing we can do.

    Bohner walk away from a great offer the first time. That offer is now off the table. Tough!

    February 28, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  3. cuisinemanager

    This should come as no surprise, this is how politics has been done in Chicago for decades. It is clear that Obama's blame and threats are catching up to him. The transparency never happened and the days of politics as usual are over never happened. Obama's blame game and Obama's threats are quickly catching up with him. He is being forced to take ownership of his policies and his actions and that of his staff! Hillary clearly knew when to bail out!

    February 28, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  4. wooki

    Woodward better start looking up for the drones that will be stalking him soon.

    February 28, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  5. Journey

    Romney would have fixed all this. :/

    February 28, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  6. Shandydandy

    Read the whole email in context with all the sentences in order. Woodward was not threatened in any way. He's attention whoring and knew exactly where to run to make as big a show as he could–Fox. I'm embarrassed for him. Worse, I'm embarrassed that news outlets would continue to churn this non-story. The demands of the 24-hour news cycle are making us dumber and dumber.

    February 28, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  7. SomeNobody

    "Woodward penned a 2012 book reporting that the idea for the spending cuts, known as the sequester, originated with the White House. It's a claim President Barack Obama originally denied, but the White House has since acknowledged." So Obama is blaming the GOP for the sequestor, which came originally from him. Obama, be a real leader and start leading, instead of just pointing fingers, even when it came from your own mess. And all you blind sheep that just follow along with Obama, open your eyes and see the lies.

    February 28, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  8. BRB

    The Speaker needs to shut up. He and his repub buddies are the root of this problem. John baby – you nor no one in your party are the president and we all hope it stays that way.

    February 28, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Coincidentally, a week before Woodward's blistering op-ed on the WH, he had appeared on Fox News blasting Karl Rove and Friends for laying 100% blame for the sequester on Pres. Obama. The following week, this week, he re-appears on Fox harmonizing with Rove's negative spin. Result, an email is sent notifiying Woodward that he's going to cut out of the news loop for a period.

    February 28, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Shardik

    In that email, the aide wrote: “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. ... You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

    Ooooh, scary threat!

    February 28, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. Carolyn

    This is B.S. Print the emails CNN.

    February 28, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. Cody

    BREAKING NEWS: Politician threatens person to become unpopular if he trashes said politician!

    February 28, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. Form the left coast....

    Bob Woodward seems like an attention-addicted, aging prima donna. He should regret inserting his editorial opinions, and opinions are what they are, not facts, into a situation he has no business discussing. He's a reporter, not an expert on anything, other than gathering "facts," and writing about "facts."

    February 28, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Larry Busch

    When does his next book come out? No I will not buy it.

    February 28, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. CraigRB

    Woodward has turned into a big sissy. Really now, what does he think the White House is going to do...kidnap him & take him to an undisclosed location & leave him there. Or worse yet, never get invited to the White House again? Come on, how ridiculous.

    February 28, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. kathy

    This is the alleged threatening email – I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall - but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus 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 ... My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

    This is what his response was to the alleged threatening email – Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice.

    I call BS!!!!

    February 28, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. gecko

    I have an idea– blame the federal workforce by subjecting them to another 3 years of pay freeze, another prolonged hiring freeze, and a 20% pay cut which must be managed in such a way that 100% mission support is sustained. NOTE: exclude the President and Congress from any action mentioned above.

    February 28, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  18. Rob

    The same people who want to take away guns, now are threatening people

    Liberalism is all about control

    February 28, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  19. GhostDogNY

    Geez Bob, that sounds like a real desperate attempt at seeking attention. You were once a great journalist and now you really don't matter anymore. You are not important enough to be threatened!

    February 28, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  20. Vumba

    Incredible

    February 28, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  21. Sam

    It's a natural preocess – you acquire fame, let it go through your head, and then crash. The next stop for Woodward is rehab.

    February 28, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  22. repntenn

    The e-mail in which this "threat" was made has been released and there is, in fact, no threat in it at all. Yawn.

    February 28, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  23. John

    Woodward is dishonest, he chould regert that. Simple.

    February 28, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  24. Vumba4

    You go Bob!

    February 28, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  25. Eli Cabelly

    They think that Obama is playing just to the Democratic party by suggesting a balanced approach?

    Playing to the Democratic party would be balancing the budget entirely through more taxes.

    February 28, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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