WH Official Who 'Warned' Woodward Was...an Economic Adviser?

Posted: Feb 28, 2013 8:47 AM

He's not exactly one of the usual suspects--many have noted that this whole 'You're gonna regret this' line of talk befits someone like Rahm Emmanuel. But Buzzfeed reports that it was Gene Sperling who emailed Woodward saying, "I think you will regret staking out that claim." 

The email from Sperling to Woodward, which Woodward read to Politico Wednesday, has transfixed Washington, with Republicans and some in the press charging that it embodies a White House lording it over a cowed press corps.

Woodward, Politico reported, called the top official — identified to BuzzFeed as Sperling — to tell him that he would question Obama's account of negotiations leading to the "sequester" — automatic cuts set to take effect next month.

The aide "yelled at me for about a half hour," Woodward said, and then sent a follow-up email that read, in part: "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." ...

Sperling, a former aide to Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin who held the same position in Clinton's second term, is a veteran Democratic budget wonk and party insider. Remarked one friend Wednesday, he is "not exactly cut from the classic, no-drama Obama cloth."

First of all, it's a little hilarious to assert that Obama only surrounds himself with the "drama-free"--in fact, I'd argue quite the opposite: many of his closest advisers, the people who go about the cable news shows defending his record, are staunch attack dogs. People like Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina, and the aforementioned Emmanuel are nasty so Obama doesn't have to be (to a certain degree). That's why he can lay some claim to being "no-drama." Others do it for him.

But more to the point here, this White House is awfully testy about something that supposedly doesn't matter: while they've tried to place the policy's origin with the GOP, liberals everywhere claim it isn't a salient point. All that matters is solving the coming crisis. Yet here we have a top White House official--not some campaign hack, but an actual policy advisor--taking a legendary reporter to task for his daring to question the official narrative.

Seems that solutions really do take a backseat to saving face in this administration. 'Government shutdown be damned, it wasn't our fault!'

Update: Politico has published the full emails, and it would appear that Woodward may have exaggerated a bit, or at least failed to provide context where it would be useful. Take the damning "regret" sentence, in this excerpted paragraph:

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus 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 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.

They're having a policy conversation, and in this setting, the "regret" comment comes off more like, "What you're saying is wrong, and you'll wish you had said it differently." Not exactly the, "Change your tune or else" line Woodward suggested. Heck, Sperling even starts the sentence with, "As a friend..."

Sperling also concludes the email by addressing the half-hour "screamfest" over the phone: "My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize."

Most interesting, however, is Woodward's response, which hardly reads like an affronted, threatened journalist. His full email:

From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013

Gene: 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 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. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

Seems like this was all a disingenuous non-story--which is not to say the White House is never guilty of shouting down reporters, as it's known for its testy media relations--but it seems Woodward committed quite a bit of manipulation to create the non-troversy in question.

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