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. Old Soldier

    Ummmm...is Bob Woodward becoming his own, new, "Deep Throat"? Does he envision another major movie? Or will he play himself as the slightly older, slightly gyayer, action hero investigative reporter? Whether he did or did not respond to the aide in a "friedndly manner" as described, it takes a real paranoiac to intimate he perceived a physical threat. No matter the context of the White House and GOP agreements, it is his job to merely observe and report his observations. It isn't his job to manufacture conspiracy theories and death threats from some aide's email after his reporting. A threat after his report isn't sensible: a threat before his report to stop it would be believable....to gullible moviegoers. It will e interesting to see how well he fares in accessing people and files. He just might "regret" things later. Reprting from outside the White House fence isn't a career enhancer. Interesting times a-coming. Tchuss!

    February 28, 2013 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  2. zoey27

    Didn't I read recently that Woodward is a Republican? Why are we concerned with his tiffs with the White House?

    February 28, 2013 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  3. Concerned

    Why can't the public see what Obama is clearly doing?

    February 28, 2013 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  4. Sergio

    Are we surprised Obama's WH is one of the most corrupt of all administrations we have had in the U.S.? please!!! Most people voted for a puppet, and that's what we got, now we have live it ... pathetic but true.

    February 28, 2013 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  5. Kman66

    Someday Obama's illegal tactics will be exposed.

    February 28, 2013 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  6. nvmature

    For whatever reason, Woodward sure seems to have it out for this WH. Is it an Israeli thing?

    February 28, 2013 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  7. RillyKewl

    Threatening Woodward isn't the way to go. Not a very bright move.
    That being said, I agree that these cuts need to be balanced with closing the obvious loopholes, as well as making those cuts much more carefully targeted + a lot less drastic!

    February 28, 2013 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  8. John

    Woodward should watch himself . He brought down Nixon, and Obama has murdered way more people than Nixon, and I won't be surprised if Obama gets impeached sooner or later. There are terrible things going on in this country that he is a part of, and some that he is ring-leading.

    February 28, 2013 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  9. JustWho

    does this jerk think he is? A protector of 'truth"? yuk!

    February 28, 2013 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  10. CJ

    We are talking about a 2% budget cut here folks. If the government cannot find 2% in budget cuts then we are in much bigger trouble. $85 million out of a $3.7 trillion dollar budget. This is not doomsday people. Move along and let sequestration happen and do what needs to be done.

    February 28, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  11. J. Bates

    He should name names at this point. We should know how senior this advisor is and they should have to explain.

    February 28, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  12. Keith Anderson

    Is anyone really surprised that the White House would try to muscle the media into reporting things in a manner of which it approves?

    February 28, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  13. RandyF

    Obama has reneged on nearly every commitment he has made.

    February 28, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  14. Harold

    Wow, what a shocker. Obama is a total fraud. Like the intelligent people of this country didn't already know it. What does this say about the morons that voted for him twice???

    February 28, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  15. z.anderson

    Me too. This guy fooled a lot people , I am or was a democrat, I am realizing that they are every thing wrong with what's going on.

    February 28, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  16. dark poet

    Doesn't surprise me...

    February 28, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  17. NB123

    A true American, we need more like Bob...

    February 28, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  18. Anonymous

    Wow... commie totalitarians really are at the gates!!!

    February 28, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  19. Dan

    Obama and his minons are the lowest dirt bags on the planet. America, you are getting what you deserve in spades.

    February 28, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  20. Wirius

    I like Obama generally, but I know he's not perfect. This is one of those things his administration does that I do not like. Thuggery is unbecoming in your cabinet Mr. President.

    February 28, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  21. The Doug

    No surprise. Obama has always come off as someone who is drunk on his own power and ego.

    February 28, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  22. PostGOP_USA

    How can Woodword blame Obama when he is the only side willing to compromise?
    And what about the Republicans saying Sequester is preferable to compromise, and even a good thing?

    February 28, 2013 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  23. Tommy Mack

    This whole thing started when the Tea Party republicans held the debt ceiling hostage. It's a self-inflicted crisis... and Woodward will be on the wrong side of history on this one.

    February 28, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  24. Thomas

    Condoleezza Rice: Warned by CIA in July 2001 of major al-Qaeda attack soon.

    February 28, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  25. Glenn from Cary

    Woodward is full of it. Always was and always will be. He is a Republican mouthpiece – nothing more, nothing less.

    February 28, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
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