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. Anonymous

    sounds like a page out of Putin's book!

    February 27, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  2. Steve

    I'll tune in to Jon Stewart for the real story.

    February 27, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  3. Jim Roof

    This administration is exerting the same tactics upon the American people and Congress that Obama's Community Organizing team did in Chicago. The name of the game is to do WHATEVER it takes to achieve the goal. Community organizers CREATE one crisis after another another, knowing that after each episode there will be an opportunity to gain ground on the objective.

    If you did not believe this before the 2012 election, believe it now. Obama is evil. He is a snake. He is thoroughly and absolutely unworthy of any public office.

    February 27, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  4. Itsme

    “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “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.” < That is not a threat. Bob Woodward's reputation is destroyed

    February 27, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  5. WoI Admin

    Republicans also "moved the goal posts" when they refused to raise the debt ceiling to pay for spending they'd already approved.

    They had no problem spending their butts off under the previous administration, suddenly after Obama takes office they become so concerned with the debt. Ridiculous. Pure hypocrisy.

    February 27, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  6. Eric of Reseda

    Wow. Telling someone they'll regret opposing you is now a threat?!? That's implicit in EVERY conflict. When has any court battle ever began with one attorney telling the other, "Don't worry. You won't regret taking my client to court. We plan to lose." CNN sensationalizing a the claim by a journalist who is sensationalizing a fairly routine remark.

    February 27, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  7. Lola

    Well Well Well! He's not only a q-u-e-e-r president but a bully as well. Good combo, Barack Hussein! 🙂

    February 27, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  8. popeye1128

    Woodward is not a journalist, he is a right wing mouthpiece. True journalists don't exist anymore.

    February 27, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  9. Pet

    Bully Hussein Osama?

    February 27, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  10. MaryM

    Bye, bye Bob

    February 27, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  11. jennifer in Houston

    Bob Woodward, another old guy who is way past retirement age.. go away and take John McCain and half the Senate with you...

    February 27, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  12. Mary

    Absolutely unreal. This administration does things that if anyone else had done, they would have been imprisoned. Goodbye ot America as we know it. More like Nazi Germany stuff.

    February 27, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  13. El Lobo

    Where is the threat? Manufacture much?

    February 27, 2013 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  14. brian

    Now just imagine if the Bush administration did that.... Obama is just another thug..and a big phony

    February 27, 2013 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  15. Jeff

    Obama said he would transform America.

    Heil Hitler or Heil Hussein

    The Jack Boots will soon be in a neighborhood near you

    February 27, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  16. Sally

    It is regretable when journalist become the news. In the days of "rock star" journalist it seems more and more times the journalist are the news and not the story. Get the story but don't make yourself the story.

    February 27, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  17. Doug

    That's crony Chicago style politics for ya. Bunch of crooks in the white house.

    February 27, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  18. Dan A

    Do I get a lot of free publicity for my book if I claim I was also threatened?

    February 27, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  19. Bob

    Wow, this administration will go to any length to silence any and all critics. Chicago politics at its best.

    February 27, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  20. Zwei Stein

    You'll be sorry!

    February 27, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  21. vinster76

    Obama is a first class thug – He tries to come off as sincere and patriotic. The truth is easy to see, he is a thug, through and through....My conscience is clear though, I saw it early and often. A manipulator of the press and public, he is shrewd and thin-skinned to a fault yet, in the end, he is still a thug....America, you voted for it, you live with it.....

    February 27, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  22. dyannne

    I seem to remember the president saying during the campaign and in the debates that there should be NEW REVENUE in the form of taxes for the wealthy. Am I wrong here?

    February 27, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  23. bjeff68

    Anyone who is even REMOTELY surprised that this White House and this President would do something like this has not been paying any attention at all the last 4 years!

    February 27, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  24. Pete/Ark

    Once upon a tmee...he broke a major story...those of us who followed it were captivated...but we also have grown tired of his publicity seeking...he wants more than his alotted 15 minutes of fame....

    February 27, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  25. No email

    Lol the President is a Chicago mobster crony... no surprise at all that his Administration uses every dirty trick and mafia threat it can to accomplish its goals. He's a black John Gotti – nothing more.

    February 27, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
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