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. Natch

    Look out, Mr Woodward! Senator Palpatine isn't as nice as he tries to appear to be!!

    February 28, 2013 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  2. larry

    What's remarkable here is that we have a liberal journalist finally say
    something critical of Dear Leader. As conservatives and libertarians, we have
    long known of the overwhelmingly liberally biased mainstream media outlets in
    this country. The media has long seen it as their charge to protect Democrats,
    to spin for them, to propagandize and when election season rolls around – to lie
    for them.

    Yet despite the fact the Obama Administration – and the entire Democratic party
    for that matter – continue to enjoy overly glowing and protective coverage from
    mainstream media outlets, just a shred of criticism from a traditionally leftist
    journalist like Bob Woodward immediately draws a stinging rebuke and response
    from the White House (cabinet member Gene Sperling specifically) by throwing a
    hissy fit and making direct threats for reporting news correctly. Not only do
    these bully tactics reflect poorly on the Obama Administration itself and its
    methods of operation, but this is a direct threat to the integrity of journalism
    itself. What incentive is there to correctly and fairly report news if future
    access and availability is threatened to be cut off?

    The Obama Administration is actively advocating socialist tyranny by imposing
    the Marxist/progressive ideology of collectivism, state control, central
    planning and redistribution. Now the freedom of the press is being threatened.
    It really is unprecedented what Barack Obama is doing to this country.

    February 28, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  3. johnk

    Partisan politics will never solve anything in Washington. Everyone wants the other guy taxed more not himself. As to spending, there is not clear answers as to what is to be spend and what should be cut. Honestly, Congress will not and can not come up with any plan other that more tax increases and approval of an increase in the debt ceiling for the 73rd time now.
    To solve this mess, it will take the private sector to come together with a realistic and sensible budget plan. First and foremost it requires exactly knowing the cash flow numbers in order to put forth a financial plan, which I doubt Wadshington does not really have they only guess

    February 28, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  4. Penarrow

    I have learned not to accept everything Woodward says or any journalist says as indisputable. What is Mr. Woodwards schedule and agenda this madness started yesterday on Morning Joe?. The White House challenged him on the his observations regarding the sequester and suggested he maybe inaccurate. This is trivia,.

    February 28, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  5. saveg1

    American People..Meet your Current Administration. The most corrupt in American History.

    February 28, 2013 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
  6. chuck

    Woodward is a Bush crony. He is not a credible journalist anymore.

    February 28, 2013 06:16 am at 6:16 am |
  7. P

    Wow suprise suprise

    February 28, 2013 06:19 am at 6:19 am |
  8. may40

    Well, we've been saying all along what a bunch of bullies and control freaks we have in the WH but you liberals wouldn't listen. I hope you'll wake up now, but they'll still be those who think this president loves the people, yeah right! I blame all of you uniformed voters for this debaucle. The MSM had you all fooled and now after the election people are starting to wake up to reality...too little too late.

    February 28, 2013 06:19 am at 6:19 am |
  9. Keerview

    This is very immature and childish, the whole bit.

    February 28, 2013 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  10. P

    Is anyone suprised to find this out, say something they dont like and you will be punished!!!

    February 28, 2013 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  11. Scott

    This is how dictatorships act. This is why they want you to turn in the email addresses of relatives that opposed Obamacare. They openly threaten anyone who opposes them. And I give the Tea Party and Republicans for standing up to this budding dictator. I don't like Woodward, but respect and believe him, more then I believe that trash in the White House.

    February 28, 2013 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  12. conchytonker

    Woodward, not a right wing journalist by any means, has the weather the wrath of Obama and the White House. Meanwhile, except for CNN that broke this story, crickets on all other liberal media sources....except FOX, who said the White House is in full denial mode....the Obama Administration modus operandi. Sinister story.

    February 28, 2013 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  13. Whome

    I'm guessing that at some point people will see this guy for what he is but most of them will not admit that they were duped, when I make a mistake for which I have many of times I will say I'm wrong.

    February 28, 2013 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  14. sigh

    Here is the exact quote: Sounds more to me like the staffer was saying Bob would regret his position for being wrong, but i guess that headline doesn't bring the page views.

    "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."

    February 28, 2013 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  15. AbbieR

    This is not news, this is attention-seeking by Mr. Woodward, trying to resurrect the good old days of journalism stardom.

    February 28, 2013 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  16. FubarObama

    Yet CNN has had numerous article penned by their own so called journalists that this is the GOP's making. The GOP gave him tax increases now its time Obama gives them the tax cuts. But alll Onama has done is preac from the billy pulpit while raising his middle finger to the GOP

    February 28, 2013 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  17. Dan

    Woodard is nothing more than a conservative moron out to discredit Obama-unless he can prove this useless allegation than he ought to shut up or retire !!! Nobody would miss him or the fabricated stories he has printed over the years !!!

    February 28, 2013 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  18. Gboy54

    No!! Say it isn't so! the White House threatening a reporter because they won't report the Administrations talking points? What is going on with this world? It must be the sequester/GOP/Bush's fault!!!

    February 28, 2013 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  19. Richard Long

    The obama administration showing it's true, "my-way-or-the-highway", mentality. The press is responsible to keep our 'leaders' in check by keeping them accountable for their actions and keeping the people properly informed. For years barrack has been coddled and tossed 't-ball' questions by the Press Corps. Finally someone speaks up for what is right and they get smacked down.

    February 28, 2013 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  20. Josuha Billkenny

    If this were a Republican president, it would be the TOP newstory for months. Obama will get away with Slapping the Newsmedia around, and treating them like petucelant children.

    February 28, 2013 06:34 am at 6:34 am |
  21. Dan

    This is disgusting. Bullying 101.

    February 28, 2013 06:34 am at 6:34 am |
  22. jerpell

    Hmm.....The sleaze of this presidency is starting to unravel for the whole world to see!

    February 28, 2013 06:34 am at 6:34 am |
  23. futureman1

    Someone get out the fork.... Bob Woodward is done! By saying "your going to regret this" means exactly that... your going to regret being on the wrong side,,..not we're going to bury you with Jimmy Hoffa!..

    February 28, 2013 06:36 am at 6:36 am |
  24. BOB

    Chicago style politics. Does anyone really believe that andrew brightbart died of a heart attack? I believe the worst is yet to come. These people will not be stopped. The liberals will do anything to keep the white house. I mean anything!!!!!!

    February 28, 2013 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  25. betterdays

    President Nixon. Now more than ever.

    February 28, 2013 06:39 am at 6:39 am |
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