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. ConfucianScholar

    So much political posturing from the president...will he ever stop giving pretty speeches while the economy continues to plummet?

    February 28, 2013 04:59 am at 4:59 am |
  2. Gaff

    Ever get any blowbckt from writing a dumb article? You could regret it. That's not a threat, it's a promise. Thats the nature of writing articles involving politics. Nobody from the White House is going to crash in your doors but a psycho protestor may camp out in front of your building and write some nasty letters. Why turn this thing into a story?

    February 28, 2013 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  3. Danza_Slap

    and cue Woodward's "heart attack" or "automobile accident" in 3.. 2.. 1..

    February 28, 2013 05:06 am at 5:06 am |
  4. Dick Guzinia

    Typical WH action.

    February 28, 2013 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  5. hank

    The White HOuse is being run by a bunch of thugs, so of course a threat, coupled with as much malice as possible, was intended. It is time for the Obamas to get out of Washington. I hope everyone who voted for this turd is happy now

    February 28, 2013 05:11 am at 5:11 am |
  6. Kevin

    What a whiner Wodward is.

    February 28, 2013 05:18 am at 5:18 am |
  7. sgraffwriter

    I supported Obama in this election, but this is stupidity on the part of the White House. Whoever that senior official is must step forward and apologize because this makes the Obama White House look like the press-hating Nixon White House.

    February 28, 2013 05:24 am at 5:24 am |
  8. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Thugs in the White House. No surprise there!

    February 28, 2013 05:24 am at 5:24 am |
  9. spike

    Today, and henceforth forever, this day shall be known as The Day A Mainstream Reporter Gave Less Than 100% Support And Approval Of The Obama Administration.

    February 28, 2013 05:26 am at 5:26 am |
  10. DeadTripper

    Wow what a threat.....guy must be hiding in his zombie bunker. Is it really that slow of a news day?

    February 28, 2013 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  11. sgraffwriter

    I supported Obama in this election, but this is stupidity on the part of the White House. Whoever that senior official is must step forward and apologize–and not just to Woodward, but to the press in general–because this makes the Obama White House look like the press-hating Nixon White House. Obama, of all presidents, should understand what message is sent in general when a cryptic threat like this goes out in an email. It's completely unacceptable.

    February 28, 2013 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  12. JD

    Sorry Woodward, but reporters who constantly dish it out need to learn to take it!! If he's that concerned, release the name of the official who "threatened" him and the emails – situation cleared up in an instant – instead we get another muckracking reporter with nothing else to do but make headlines –

    February 28, 2013 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  13. gager

    Obama needs to be removed from office. He is a terrible president with micro managing and no sense of economics. He makes impossible promises and lies, lies, lies.

    February 28, 2013 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  14. lovemygirl

    Exposing the Chicago thugs for what they are.

    February 28, 2013 05:35 am at 5:35 am |
  15. joesmith

    it has been said before, even on the silver screen, " beware of the messenger"

    February 28, 2013 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  16. floydzepp

    Woodward hasn't been relevant since watergate. He's playing sensationalism now. he certainly can't prove his wild claims.

    February 28, 2013 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  17. mike

    2014. Ditch Mitch and give the dog a Boehn.

    February 28, 2013 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  18. lhenn516

    I sure would hate to think that I voted (twice) for a thug administration. Whoever this person is had better be flushed out quickly. This is totally unacceptable.

    February 28, 2013 05:48 am at 5:48 am |
  19. slider9499

    He must have another book coming out; this is the only time you hear from this guy is when he is peddling his books.

    February 28, 2013 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  20. NoTags

    Chicago style politics from the White House.

    The White House made a mistake by threatening Bob Woodward. He knows where all the skeletons are in Washington.

    February 28, 2013 05:50 am at 5:50 am |
  21. lhenn516

    I didn't intentionally vote (twice) for a thug administration. Flush this person out quickly.

    February 28, 2013 05:51 am at 5:51 am |
  22. GI Joe

    Woodward must have a new book coming out soon - needs the publicity. He'll make the TV rounds hawking it for months before it comes out.

    February 28, 2013 06:02 am at 6:02 am |
  23. rusty red

    What's this, no far left response.....Did Woodward catch them off guard.....

    February 28, 2013 06:03 am at 6:03 am |
  24. J- dawg

    Of course he was threatened, Obama lies over and over and is a bigger criminal than been Bush was...but you can't question him.

    February 28, 2013 06:03 am at 6:03 am |
  25. Michael

    Obama should be impeached if not jailed.

    February 28, 2013 06:05 am at 6:05 am |
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