Veteran journalist Bob Woodward is embroiled in an extraordinary public clash with the White House over his reporting on the sequester.
Woodward has been making the rounds to cable TV and print outlets accusing a “very senior person” in the administration of threatening him last week ahead of an op-ed he later published in the Washington Post attributing the idea for the automatic spending cuts to President Obama.
The blitz drew a harsh rebuke from former senior Obama adviser David Plouffe Wednesday night: “Watching Woodward last 2 days is like imagining my idol Mike Schmidt facing live pitching again. Perfection gained once is rarely repeated,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith also opined: “Woodward deserves a lot of credit for taking a macro story about DC dysfunction, competing econ theories & making it all about him,” she said.
In the column at the center of the storm, Woodward writes the White House has been deliberately disingenuous about its role in the sequester, and accused Obama of “moving the goal posts” by insisting Republicans agree to new tax revenue as part of any substitute for the sequester. “That was not the deal he made,” he says.
Woodward’s report has rankled administration officials, particularly since it undermines the narrative the White House has been pushing ahead the March 1 sequester deadline. Democrats claim the automatic cuts were mutually agreed upon and never intended to be enacted, making Obama’s demand for new revenue a legitimate one. Republicans claim the sequester was Obama’s idea and that any replacement plan was to be entirely cuts.
Now, Woodward alleges that he was bullied even ahead of publishing his report. He told Politico Wednesday that one Obama aide “yelled at me for about a half hour” and in an email message delivered a veiled threat.
“It was said very clearly: ‘you will regret doing this,’” Woodward told CNN. “I’m not going to say [who], a very senior person. It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters you’re going to regret doing something you believe in.”
“I think if Barack Obama knew that was part of the communications strategy, let’s hope it’s not a strategy, but just a tactic he’s employing, he’d say, ‘look, we don’t go around trying to say to reporters if you in an honest way present something that we don’t like, you’re going to regret this,’” he said.
BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, citing unnamed sources, says the official with whom Woodward had the tense exchange was the director of the White House Economic Council Gene Sperling.
White House officials have downplayed Woodward’s account, saying that no threats were intended and that the original impetus for the email to Woodward was to apologize for an earlier heated phone conversation. And while the administration does not directly dispute Woodward’s reporting, officials believe he is focusing on a moot point.
“What does that matter now? Not much,” senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters Sunday of the debate over who concocted the sequester.
“What is true now is that Republicans have decided that the sequester should go into effect,” choosing cuts rather than closing loopholes, he said.
UPDATE 8:11 a.m.: A senior White House official acknowledges that a top aide told Woodward he would regret what he wrote, but insists there was no threat.
“Of course no threat was intended,” the White House official tells ABC News. “The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more.”
Furthermore, the White House adds: “Mr. Woodward responded to this aide’s email in a friendly matter.”
Woodward’s “friendly” response came on Saturday. He didn’t come forward and call the initial email a threat until late Wednesday.
UPDATE 9:45 a.m.: Woodward has shared with ABC News his email exchange with the White House official who told him he would “regret” his reporting on the sequester. You can read it HERE.
This post has been updated. ABC News’ Jon Karl contributed reporting.