A rhetorical threat allegedly issued to veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward by a top White House official turns out to be not quite what the press first made of it, according to emails obtained by Politico.
Woodward, one half of the journalistic duo credited with inspiring the resignation of President Richard Nixon (R), has criticized President Barack Obama's (D) handling of the debt limit negotiations and the "sequestration" budget cuts those negotiations produced.
The sequester cuts, part of a deal hammered out by Congress and the White House in 2011 in a negotiation to raise the debt ceiling, are automatic spending cuts that will trim $1.2 trillion from both domestic and defense spending over 10 years. The first cuts are scheduled to go into place on Friday, which will trim $85 million from the current budget unless Congress comes up with an alternative deal.
That supposedly raised the ire of a senior Obama administration official who "yelled at me for about a half hour," Woodward told Politico on Wednesday. The unnamed official allegedly said the reporter would come to "regret" his writing on the sequester.
Now that the full exchange has been published, it would seem the earlier context implied a much more strongly-worded discussion. In other words, the threat to Woodward turns out to be almost nothing at all.
"I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad," Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling wrote to Woodward. "I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here."
"But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post," he continued. "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 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. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really."
Woodward replied: "You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should [sic] more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved."
For his part, National Journal editor Ron Fournier called the whole affair "a silly distraction" meant to take the heat off Obama and Congress amid their failure to head off the sequester. After a post on Twitter comparing the Woodward-White House feud to press battles of the Nixon-era, one of his sources in the Obama administration got cranky too, slamming him in an email for writing "bullshit like that." He claims the same official sent "several e-mails" and made phone calls "filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Woodward called a veiled threat."
Fournier, who was criticized during the Bush years for an email to Karl Rove that seemed to imply he was on the Republicans' side, reportedly told the Obama official that any further communications would be completely on the record and publishable at-will. He claims the former source never wrote back.