February 28, 2013 8:49 pm

Journalist’s claim riles White House

A spat between the White House and the ultimate Washington insider – the journalist Bob Woodward – has caught the Obama administration off guard at a delicate political moment.

For weeks Barack Obama has been painting a gloomy picture of $1.2tn in spending cuts that take effect on Friday.

But the White House narrative has been upended by Mr Woodward, the Washington Post journalist who became famous for exposing the Watergate scandal. He has pinned the blame for sequestration on the White House, saying that it was originally their idea.

On Wednesday night, Mr Woodward suggested that he had received a veiled threat from a thin-skinned White House official, now known to be Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser, who told him he would come to “regret staking out that claim”.

Mr Woodward’s contention initially drew mixed responses on Twitter. The White House can be seen as heavy handed when challenged by reporters. But it was also unclear whether Mr Sperling was simply waving Mr Woodward off a story, suggesting he would “regret” pursuing it because he was wrong.

The release of the cordial email exchange between Mr Woodward and Mr Sperling on Thursday seemed to support that theory, with Mr Sperling apologising repeatedly for raising his voice against Mr Woodward.

“I apologise for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall . . . But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that [Mr Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goalpost. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim,” Mr Sperling wrote.

Mr Woodward’s response was equally cordial: “Gene: You do not ever have to apologise 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.”

Others were less cordial. David Plouffe, Mr Obama’s former top adviser, compared Mr Woodward to an aged baseball player who was once a star. “Perfection gained once is rarely repeated” he tweeted.

He then sought to clarify: Interesting response to last tweet. Like many I was shaped by Woodward writing and books. ATPM [All the President’s Men] was perfection. But this latest skirmish off.”

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