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. William101

    The White House has every right to tell anyone at anytime they are going to regret their actions.. It is called called repercussions.. You cannot act anyway or anyhow say anything and not expect backlash.

    February 28, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  2. BosMonkey

    Plenty of leadership? Are you freaking kidding me?? I am not a Republican, nor am I firmly in teh Democrat camp, but Obama just keeps the spin going saying it's the other's fault and people take his word over others.

    Obama put us in this mess – they FINALLY acknowledged that and what's his way to make it better? Increase revenue. That is not the way to solve spending problems. The way to solve that is to REDUCE spending, not look for additional sources of revenue to pay for what you now realize you can't!! Obama can't pay for what he's promised and over-extended himself and now looking for additional taxes. It is NOT the way to do it.

    You don't spend what you don't have – at least most people live by that, but not government and things NEED to change. I am glad Woodward called teh Administration out on this. Wake up people.

    February 28, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  3. Ben

    Bob Woodward has done more for this country, as a journalist, than Obama has ever done. In fact, I would say that Woodward has done more to help the Democratic party (as beneficiaries of the Watergate investigation), than Obama has. Evidently, the White House takes a with us or against us attitude, believing, seemingly, that it has no regard for an independent media (sorry, my mistake, media is either independent or right wing biased, no such thing as left-wing biased media). I guess Woodward's job is to support the Obama administration, or he's against them.

    February 28, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. NorCalMojo

    I bet he's happy about it. He was too young to make it onto Nixon's enemy list, so he's probably pretty stoked to be on Obama's

    February 28, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  5. Jack

    Woodward is upset because he's not going to be getting inside info anymore. That is what really upsets him. He's not the "anointed" journalist with inside info. You throw stones at a house and then you get mad that they don't invite you to dinner. Hmmm.

    February 28, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  6. Mark

    I posted the very first comment and it's gone. Let's see if this passes the "moderators" at CNN:

    Wonder if Nixon ever threatened Mr. Woodward?

    February 28, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  7. TexaSam

    Really? Little Bobby Woodward was "threatened"? Hey Bobby, Ya wanna know what threatened is?

    It's when the 80 yr old widow living alone no longer reveives her Meals on Wheels.

    It's the 4 yr old losing Head Start when both parent's work 2 full time & 2 part time jobs but still don't earn enough to pay for health insurance and/or save for college/retirement.

    It's the single parent who found a lump in her breast but can't afford to see a doctor.

    It's the Iraq/Afghanistan veteran who is unable to find a job or affordable housing once home.

    It's the American PEOPLE who are the ones threatened by this Congress who were elected to solve problems, not meaure their manhoods on our dime.

    So stop whining you pathetic little man. YOU can afford to eay & pay your bills without fear. Those actually affected by the Party Before Country crowd will suffer, not you & your bank account. Go volunteer to help someone else instead of crying in your champagne in public.

    February 28, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  8. Tracy W

    The white house did the same thing to Lanny Davis... but I guess he's screwed up like Woodward, huh? Liberal idiots.

    February 28, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |

    Nowadays, Owebama Admin. in the White House has became a huge Secreat Agents. I totally trust in Bob Woodward.

    February 28, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. lws

    What a crock of inflated nothingness. The ONLY story here is CNN's attempt to "create" news by taking up Woodward's persecution spin on the White House email. If CNN believes that's objective news reporting, they should get out of the business or become a Fox News affiliate.

    February 28, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  11. Ancient Texan

    Joey... Boehner and the House passed two separate bills to avoid the sequester cuts and the Senate and Obama ignore them....as usual, then lie about the Congressional inactivity.

    February 28, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    I think the president has shown a lack of leadership since taking office. A leader does not point fingers and make excusses, he finds a way to get consiensus. It was made pretty clear during his first term when he had the only open meeting that was televised, and remember he said all of them were going to be televised, John McCain disagreed with him and he told the senator that his opinion didn't matter, I won and youl lost John, get over it. That has set the tone for this entire presidency. That is NOT the trait of a leader. No matter what anyone says all failures lay squarely on the shoulders of the president for not being able to get the cooperation from both parties and getting the house and senate to work together. His combative posture towards the repubilcans are providing examples that it is ok for the democrats not to work with republicans, in fact he is pushing this type of behavior. Again this is NOT leadership.

    February 28, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  13. Abbey

    Welcome to the days Low Information Voters and Chicago gangland politics.

    February 28, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. Poonky

    As uncomfortable as it is for him, Mr. Oblama is the head honcho. It is part of HIS job to broker a deal. His strategy of 'we won, get over it' ignores the fact that the other party took over the House under his watch, and this strategy has lead to where we are now, and will ultimately lead to nowhere productive. The really sad part is that there are enough voters in the country that have no skin in the game that he was re-elected. OMG.

    February 28, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  15. Pilot

    David, I believe the threat part was the "you will regret it" Pretty obvious to well anyone but an former Obama aid. Just more Nazi's in action. Dem;'s get pretty touchy when someone tries to curtail the entitlements for votes scam that they are running.

    February 28, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  16. Sly

    Come on Congress – cut the budget. I can't believe I agree with the Tea Party on Sequestor.

    Our military is fat and corrupt, and we spend more than the rest of the world combined.

    Sequestor Sequestor Sequestor.

    We are bored with news stories about budget cuts – that is what politicians do – negotiate solutions.

    February 28, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  17. Mwaqar

    Bob Woodward needs to retire,he is wrong by saying that the W.H. threatened him,it was a private conversation between 2 individuals,Bob Woodward wrote couple of stupid books and I don't know why media is paying attention to his stupid claim.
    He sounds like Donald Trump,both love their 15 min fame.

    February 28, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  18. cnnife

    In a country that espouses and encourages freedom of speech and where every news is covered to the fullest extent possible, you seriously expect anyone to belief that the WH will send an email threatening a news media/reporter, and simply hopes that the reporter will simply keep quiet? hellllllloooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 28, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  19. James

    Joey seems misinformed, the House has sent at least 2 budgets to the Senate as well as other legislation and Harry has blocked it from a vote every time. But the Dems have not passed a budget in 6 years so who is not earning a paycheck?

    February 28, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  20. Meet the Crooks

    Obama finally got caught by his own media..Hilarious..guess you can't lie to and threaten everyone without it coming back to bite you...too bad Woody didn't care about Bengazi.

    February 28, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  21. alan

    Does anyone really doubt the thugs and tyrants in the WH would threaten someone? Most of these cretins would have half the population in internment camps if they could

    February 28, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |

    Where are the facts? Senator Cruz says things too.

    February 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  23. mikeambrose524

    I don't get Woodward's point. If I state the fact that "you're fat and ugly" should I expect no reacation from you ?

    February 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  24. allens

    bob, show us the e mail. otherwise, you are full of it

    February 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  25. Rationalintn

    What's the matter Bob, are your book sales too low for your liking? It's kind of late in the game to jump off the journalism ship and into the sea of manufactured outrage. That sea may be swirling around with dollar signs, but be careful, you could drown in it. Oops, I better be careful, you probably think that last sentence was a threat, right?

    Unfortunately, I've found as people age, they seem to become more paranoid. They will twist your words into something you absolutely did not say, and simple logic starts to fail them. Sad.

    February 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
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