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. deewa2010

    I have liked and paid attention to Bob Woodward since All The President's Men... BUT.. I am pretty darn sure many many many reporters are told you'll be sorry if you print this or that. THAT is not a THREAT. Get off your high horse, Bob, time to retire. Sad actually.

    February 28, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  2. JenniferC

    Politico published the email exchange. It is hardly threatening. Woodward is entitled to his own opinions about sequester, but if he comes of out this looking like a fool (or landing a well-paying gig with Faux News), only time will tell. He strikes me as an attention-seeker right now. Maybe some book sales will come of it among the readers who make Coulter and Malkin best-selling authors.

    February 28, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  3. Spacial

    There is not leadership from either party. But my biggest disappoint are the lies that come out of the WH. There is no transparency. It was promised when running for office but the secrecy and lack of information regarding certain world events has shown President Obama is not different then all the others before. Democrat and Republican.

    February 28, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  4. Clayton Colwell

    Before knee-jerking so badly you give yourselves concussions, y'all might want to hold off until the ACTUAL WORDING gets published, in its entirety and in context.

    February 28, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  5. John

    What I find most disturbing is that the libs are so willing to overlook every single lie this administration tells. That they are so willing to give up even the most basic freedoms such as those covered in the 1st and 2nd amendments to claim allegiance to a party, all the while overlooking their responsibilities as Americans to keep our government serving us and not the other way around. I have voted both dem and rep in different elections even voting for Obama the first time around. To blindly follow any party off a cliff is insane at best and as an American everyone should be able to see past any party an understand what’s best for all of us... and it ain't increased taxes while increasing spending... reduce spending along with cutting programs that don't work fist if you ever want to have a serious talk about tax increases.

    February 28, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  6. g

    woodward hangs around parking garages hoping to get a big scoop

    February 28, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  7. james

    What a whiney little twerp...suck it up and write your story!

    February 28, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  8. Mike

    What is the lapdog media starting to show some teeth. Everything was fine and dandy when the MSM just behaved and obeyed the Obama administration but let one of them criticize the Obamas and watch the Obama administration show its true colors. I'd be worried Woodward . Remember this is the same administration that is authorizing assasinations of American citizens. I wouldn't go to any Middle Eastern countries if I were you. You might just happen to get in the way.

    February 28, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. Pete

    Remember Boehner publicly satisfied saying he got his 98% and yes no matter who created this sequester deal republicans in congress,senate happily jumped on it voting into legislation..Republicans you're the majority led in congress and McConnell runs with what Boehner says so he's responsible as well accepting this deal..Pres.Obama playing the wise chess master signed the bill into law happily putting the hangmans noose around the republicans necks knowing well their conservative party will ultimitly suffer the worst defeats at midterms..And you know what the wise public told republicans that but as usual their arrogence always overshadows their ignorence doesn't it!!Yah republicans we did happily tell yah so ,so say bye bye come midterms and your party as well!!

    February 28, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. LogicRules

    Woodward gets in a spat with a old press buddy, and connects this to the WH days from March 1rst? Are you kidding me? Obama, in one way or another, has preached a balanced approach since day one. Saying that goalposts were moved when focusing on that very point is a joke. Then, to cry to the media about feeling threatened from a word taken obviously out of context, is bizarre. Wow Bob...time to hang em up....please

    February 28, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  11. Jeff

    People, just vote out each and every elected official next time around. It's time WE THE PEOPLE cleaned things up. It's time we wise up to these cronnies that stay in office for more than 1-2 terms. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutley.

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  12. Brian

    Wow can you say hack. Claiming he was threatened. I wonder if he'll shut up now that the email in question was released and shows he is a hack.

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  13. JScogg

    Joey-Did you even read the article?? This was the deal the President made and it was HIS idea. Quit crying and wake up! Your democratic saviors haven't done a thing on their end to solve the problem and now want to blame the republican for an idea THEY came up with themselves. The whole thing is a joke, both parties. Our system is broken. I'm all fo the sequester at this point. Maybe it will wake our country up!

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  14. BlueDem1

    Assuming this actually happened, I'm sure this wasn't the first time Bob Woodward has been "threatened" by a White House official (and not just during Obama's presidency!). Bush's White House threatened people all the time for "disloyalty", including former cabinet members. Remember the "leaking" of a CIA Agent's identity after her husband publicly criticized the Bush Administration's Iraq policy?

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  15. Sniffit

    More proof that woodard is a racist shill trying to stay relevant like the rest of the oldtymey GOPpers (McCain, etc)

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Show me the e-mail.

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  17. james

    Woodward is a whiney little twerp...he should just shut up and write his story.

    February 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. SV

    If the idea did come from the White House, it was a darn stupid one. But the republicans haven't come up with anything better. This whole country is going to burn because we've sent far too many radicals to Washington whose sole concern is to give the man in the White House the bird.

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...Okay then, tell me who sent it.

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  20. Elliot Klinge

    Another manufactured scandal. Oh no, it isn't possible that the white house meant that, as a journalist, he's going to regret publishing a misleading article about a subject he doesn't fully understand. No, no, let's trust this notable conservative when he says the White House has turned gangster. How about some real news?

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  21. emma

    Oh please. He sounds like a third grader. Why don't people just do their jobs and stop acting like children. The media is a joke.

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...that's what we thought....

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  23. Sophia thomas owen

    Bob Woodward doesn't know anything. He wants to make himself famous again. This time he got it worng.

    Bob, please stop what you are trying to do.

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  24. jcarol

    Obviously David Plouffe would lie in order to have a job-just another example of the morality of the obama administration! David Plouffe, let me guess -you are the little guy in the obama adminstration that is expendalble-just in case your assessment of the Woodward incident does not "do the job" (misleading the american citizens) !

    February 28, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  25. Donis22

    When these once upon a time famous men, and sometimes women too, are no longer in the limelight, they seem to go to silly extremes to be taken seriously again.

    February 28, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
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