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. Evergreen

    If this is true, someone in the White House owes Mr. Woodward an apologize or clarification.

    February 27, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  2. alushiva

    If you tell someone you will regret this, it can mean something else or several things other than a threat. This journalist is just blowing smoke looking for attention. If indeed that was said, it could have meant he will regret because Woodward is wrong on facts? Could it mean future invitations to White House will be curtailed? Could it mean his details are wrong on sequestration? If someone at the highest office really want to do something bad, do you think he will say you will regret this? Its funny how reporters build a mountain from a molehill.

    February 27, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  3. jas106

    It will be interesting to see what the White House has to say...

    February 27, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  4. Borderless

    Threatening reporters for covering the White House: All part of "the most transparent Presidency in history".

    February 27, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  5. Rob

    Team messiah is not used to any sort of challenge from the media.

    February 27, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  6. jimmjoe

    Don't mess with Woodward

    February 27, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  7. Royal Flush

    Don't ya know? All politicians will say and do anything to get what is wanted at the time. It's sort of like, that was then, this is now.

    February 27, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  8. James

    Hope they have to pay for that stupid threat. Shows how things have degraded in the White House. Make up their own rules without consequences–In just 5 years–Wow–

    February 27, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  9. yolanda

    Gosh, I guess it's okay for this White House to behave menacingly. I can't wait to hear MSNBC's coverage of this......

    February 27, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  10. ObaMao

    No difference between this White House and Nazi Germany. Hey Zucker you better tell your people to start reporting on this Gestapo behavior. It not the first time.

    February 27, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  11. Joe McCarthy

    "You will regret doing this". I think this is how Stalin got his start.

    February 27, 2013 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  12. Juanito

    The Obama drones are circling the wagons trying to discredit this guy.

    February 27, 2013 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  13. we225

    Obama proposed it, Congress passed it, and ever since they have been trying to change it. If the President is moving the goal posts, what do you call the Republicans, changeing the playing field it seems to me. Woodward has been threatened, WOW, The President is threatened almost daily.

    February 27, 2013 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  14. BWood

    Prove that is what the WHOLE EMAIL said.... show me the email....

    February 27, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  15. Robrob

    "an e-mail from a senior administration official – who he would not name – communicated a message which caused him great concern."


    February 27, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  16. jpublic

    This is downright scary............this is the stuff those Conspiracy movies are made of. No free press, no free country.

    February 27, 2013 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  17. California

    No surprise, it's the Chicago way.

    Thugs and criminals are all they are.

    February 27, 2013 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  18. we225

    To publish something like this at this time in the game (excuse the pun) , seems like Mr. Woodward is trying to stir the pot

    February 27, 2013 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  19. MikeTheTaxMan

    Wow...Obama, what a mistake!!

    February 27, 2013 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  20. haloguy628

    When will the US wake up and see that they elected marxist hack who really does not care for consequences and will say or do anything in order to get his way? Obama is just using the Alinsky road map. It may be too late anyway since he's in his second term and this country is already on it's knees. Shame on you gullible masses.

    February 27, 2013 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  21. sb36695

    Valerie Jarrett “There Will Be Hell to Pay” for Obama’s Critics

    February 27, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  22. True Colors

    No that there is a liberal reporting being threatened its a story ........................

    February 27, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  23. Jaws3119

    Looks like pres. Obumer has found someone who's not afaird to repond to his crap. Score, Woodward 1, Obumer 0.

    February 27, 2013 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  24. Brightly

    Hey, Bob! Nobody cares.

    February 27, 2013 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  25. Rick

    I think this clown needs to stay away from the whitehouse! He doesn't seem to get a long with anyone that lives there! Is he always a victim? His wife seems tougher than him!

    February 27, 2013 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
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