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. JesterJames

    There's no way to sugar coat the facts. We are broke, the massive government debt means higher taxes, less service and handouts. American politics has moved into the realm of zero sum game.

    February 28, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  2. Anastasia Beverhausen

    Much ado about nothing. No one cares Bob.

    February 28, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  3. Bob

    Too bad Bob has reduced hiimself to making mountains out of molehills.

    February 28, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  4. MightyMoo

    If it's as bad as Woodward is making it out to be then post the email so everyone can read it.

    February 28, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  5. NavyAirVet

    This just proves that Obama is scamming the nation with all his lies and innuendo about the Sequester. It was his idea and he seems to forget that part, so he's lying straight out! This is Obama's sequestration and he owns it! He's a terrible negotiator. Negotiating through fear-mongering, as he's been seen daily doing, is evil and misleading. Only a fool would believe him now!!

    February 28, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  6. JohnRJohnson

    Right. The White House is going to "threaten" an internationally known columnist who was played by Robert Redford in "All the President's Men". That makes a lot of sense - if you think you're being chased by Bigfoot or vampires. I used to admire Woodward. He's an erudite, educated man who has a long track record of objective reporting behind him. But, now, he seems to be starved for media attention by choosing to interpret "you'll regret this" as a personal threat, rather than a prediction that he will eventually regret writing what was clearly partisan column. It hurt him and what had once been his seemingly impervious credibility. That's why he'll regret it. And, now, he'll also regret accusing the White House of threatening him.

    February 28, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  7. thelordthygod

    keep em guessing with a Woodward vs White House showdown –
    right-wingers in not sure who they hate more...

    February 28, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  8. YRU2L8

    One last thing to the members of the press. I know you didn't study it in history at school (and you should ask yourself why), but did you ever learn what happened to the press after communist 'revolutions'?

    You all won't be needed in the future if you fail to do your job now.

    February 28, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  9. lxNay

    There is something very whiny about this guy.

    February 28, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  10. spike

    Google Obama+press+censorship or Obama+media+censorship and you will get results that will keep you busy reading for days. The lemmings like being deceived and living in a world that covers up the reality of what this administration is all about. The most corrupt, treasonous admin. ever.

    February 28, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  11. kurtinco

    Woodward is a hack desperately trying to bring back the Watergate era in an effort to regain some of his integrity before he's forgotten.

    February 28, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  12. Ross

    Get over it. This is all you have been talking about for days. PLEASE now more Morning Joe. Get back to work.

    February 28, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  13. Slinky

    I agree that any threat from the White House would be out of line. But the "conservatives" here are being typically hypocritical. They said nothing when Reagan threatened Andrea Mitchell over the Iran-Contra story, or when Bush threatened Joe Scarborough. Typical.

    February 28, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. Observer

    Careful Woodward, this is no "Nixon". The integrity you were once lauded for by Dems once will be your undoing now.... at the hands of those same people. Double standard please, party of two.

    February 28, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  15. yo!

    Obama: "You're either with us or against us ... if you're not with us, you will regret it."

    February 28, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. Normagene

    Was the widdle weporter scared.

    Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

    Doesn't he just sound tewwified!!

    February 28, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. Jackie

    Woodward needs attetion after he had the Deep Throat Secret that could bring down the Adminstration and the US he did not think his life was threaten but now he is so scared because with no shocking news he is threatn by a few words. Are we that stupid and how much money does he need with really nothing to write or say. /his book sales have bombed and no interviews. Woodward got a private interview with War Criminal President George W. Bush but kept the secret that the invasion of Iraq that killed thousands of brave soldiers was cherry picked and based on llies by Curveball. One would had hoped Woodward love the US so much he would have exposed the lies by the Bush Administration but for the money he kept his mouth shut. it's time for Woodward to retire and write a book of his life.

    February 28, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  18. Look at the track record

    So let's look at the history of those involved...

    Bob Woodward...Broke the biggest political story of the generation. Respected Journalist, never has (nor has reason to) lie.

    Obama...Accomplished nothing. Lied about sequester originating in white house (and about everything else)

    Yet you people are attacking Woodward?!?! What is wrong with you? I have no faith in people, those that voted for Obama deserve what is coming.

    February 28, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  19. QS

    Considering how far the goal posts have been moved toward the far right, by the far right in recent years, President Obama, you keep doing everything you can to pull them back as much as possible!

    Conservatives are just upset in general because their ridiculous ideology and laughable economic ideas have been exposed, causing less and less people to be duped by them.

    Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship is flawed when one party refuses to govern responsibly....or at all! So I say the conservative party has earned themselves a nice time-out in the corner for a bit, and I sincerely hope that President Obama makes them wear the dunce cap as well!

    February 28, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  20. Gary

    By reading these comments I now see what the white house meant by you'll be sorry. They will come after you if your loyalty should waver.

    February 28, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. Rider3

    Reading the emails that have been made public shows you that Woodward is over-exaggerating - BIG TIME. The guy just wants to keep his name in the news. Even some Republicans are saying there's nothing to see here.

    February 28, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  22. Anton

    Woodward rewarded although dumb.

    Listen to any interview with him regardless of his take on events and he is not a very smart man.

    February 28, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. LR

    Bob Woodward has been a credible and well-respected Washington journalist for many many years and he knows how Washington works. If he says it, then it's so. Looks like Jarrett, Plouffe, and Axelrod need to either step up their damage control bully tactics or change their ways. Hahahaha...like changing their ways is gonna happen!

    February 28, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  24. Mr Dalloway

    Be careful when you dig ditches for others because you very well may end up falling into it yourself.

    February 28, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  25. J sylvia

    Of course the Whitehouse threatend Woodward, you play by their rules or you have a problem, President Nixon would be so proud.

    February 28, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
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