February 27th, 2013
09:24 PM ET
10 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.

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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. Atteckus

    Mr. Woodward's claim that his statement is irrefutable is nothing but crap. I have read the entire act. There is no such concession in the law, AT ALL. The president never promised to not pursue increased revenues as part of the act to avert implementation of the sequester. The sole requirement of the act to avert sequester is agreed-to "deficit reduction" equaling or exceeding $1.2 Trillion over 10 years. Woodward is a liar, and CNN is attempting to prop up his lie. CNN, Woodward and the Washington Post should all be ashamed.

    February 27, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  2. Tom

    King Obama is mad that an honest journalist is showing ameirca how much of a fail president he is

    February 27, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  3. Andrew Davis

    White House thug tactics... don't like it, threaten until people are on your side...

    February 27, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  4. Joe

    I almost don't care how we get there, SPENDING must be controlled and taxes must be the same percentage for all of us, If I pay 6% you pay 6% whether you make $1,000, $10.000 or $1,000,000,000 or ???? per annum. There should be no adjustments to incomes or taxes for anyone on any tax form. Tax forms would be easier also, Line 1 your income, Line 2 X .06, line 3 you pay. End of form. We would not need the IRS any longer.

    February 27, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  5. Ryan London

    No surprise that there are no comments on this from all the liberals that drink the kool-aid. WAKE UP, your president is a liar, a fraud and you support him. STOP IT NOW!

    February 27, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    wow this is impeachment news, right

    February 27, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  7. gladitsnight

    Why is this news?

    February 27, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  8. Kanawala Kiberenge Burukenge

    You can"regret" having said something not because someone has harmed you but because you now realize that you made a gross misjudgment in your statement.

    February 27, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  9. Fernando

    I may regret telling you this but you will regret going to the press with your story of being told you'll regret claiming that Obama was a deal-changer for the sequester that everyone claims they regret agreeing to in the first place.

    February 27, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  10. Rob

    When we look back in a couple of years, we will all realize we have been duped by the Con Man in the White House. He will be the biggest disgrace to grace the office of the President.

    February 27, 2013 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  11. Bill P

    I have always said that no one can lie without giving some element of the truth. In this case, the lying of the Obama Administration has reached a shrill level that the deception cannot hide the true nature of this President. Bob Woodward is the latest to find out that this President cares nothing about this country and anyone who gets in his way is toast.

    February 27, 2013 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  12. dan

    Woodward is getting cranky in his old age.

    February 27, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  13. ObamaFailure

    Obama has got to be the worst president ever to grace this great land

    February 27, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  14. cbr

    This story is quite convoluted. He said and then he said, etc. Mr. Woodward must realize that it the way something is stated or written that can cause the problem. That is why we do not read his columns any more.

    Hopefully he told the President about the aide. If he did not then he should not be speaking about it on any news programs. THe President needs to know because this person who wrote the memo works for him and he may not have had permission to write this so-called threat.

    February 27, 2013 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Woodward is not alone in making a mountain of a moll hill or twisting ordinary statements to mean something earth shaking. He thinks he has unveiled an earth-shaking news and changed the course of history. Probably the White House aid meant that by introducing such trivial matters in the ongoing serious discussions, Woodward was only
    creating diversions and helping in getting the problem resolved, which might have very serious consequences for the
    nation and it was quite possible Woodward had also contributed towards that which he would regret later on. Woodward is too small a fry for any personal attacks and it is his swollen head which makes him think this way.

    February 28, 2013 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  16. Yanni

    Who started it? Woodward, that shouldn't be the discussion we should having. It seems like Woodward is seeking one more scandal before the sunset. Our state of politics is downgraded to who’s idea was the “sequester” who cares! get together and solve it for the American people be a responsible adult.

    February 28, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  17. daveg,mn

    Moving the goal posts was evident too in the recent "Frontline" on the fiscal cliff. It is clear that Obama is savvy at a confidence game that now as the truth is coming out, he has to resort to threats as the house of lies comes crashing down.

    February 28, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  18. CodeRatz

    It's time to put these people in their place.

    February 28, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  19. Mark Knight

    So much for this administration claiming to bring change and swearing to bring transparency... It's business as usual at the WH and as usual the American middle class gets reamed.

    February 28, 2013 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  20. OrganicManLives_N_anOraganicUNiverSE

    snore... woodwards feathers seem ruffled.

    February 28, 2013 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  21. Fredd Fezzo

    And so many believed that the Bush bully-pulpit was beneath contempt. We're on a very slippery slope here. It's scary to see what this country is descending into. Send in the drones to keep an eye on Mr. Woodward. Freedom of the press? Gimme a break!

    February 28, 2013 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  22. W8a2nd

    Woodwards been hanging with Trump I see. Relegated himself to another buffoon running after headlines.

    February 28, 2013 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  23. DaveW

    Lol. Bob Woodward knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote that article last weekend.

    Socialism has never taken root in America. We less fortunate Americans do not view ourselves as the exploited proletariat, but rather as embarrassed millionaires. Now that Bob Woodward is a little less embarrassed, he is not quite as anxious for social justice to be part of this administration's accomplishments.

    Hold tough Mr. President. It's never easy bucking the wealthy and the powerful.

    February 28, 2013 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  24. Kachonka

    If he was threatened via Email, throw it out there. Otherwise, its just more Orly Taitz crap. I can't stand 0bama, but if he has an email, show it or shut it.

    February 28, 2013 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  25. Jim

    First they say Obama is freeing illegal immigrants who are detained and now this. They're pulling out all the stops again. Hannity and Limbaugh must have had a round table meeting recently.

    February 28, 2013 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
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