White House plays down leak of private Obama comments

President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a fundraiser at Navy Pier April 14, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The White House is taking the mistake in stride. Or so it seems.

An audio feed of President Obama's question and answer session yesterday at one of his three re-election fundraisers in Chicago was piped, in error, into the press room audio system back at the White House.

Reporters working late were able to hear the president speak more candidly than usual about his budget negotiations last week - and what he told Republican leaders about their efforts to cut funding for his health care overhaul.

"You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?" the president said he told them.

The pool of White House press traveling with Mr. Obama had been allowed to cover his opening statement at that fundraiser, but had been escorted from the event before he started taking questions. They didn't count on the feed being piped into the press room.

"It was a miscommunication, nothing more than that," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney of the misdirected audio feed.

Asked if the president were embarrassed by his unguarded statements, Carney said, "not at all." He added: "It's not a problem, not an issue."

It might be an issue in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, whose chief of state, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, met Thursday in the Oval Office with Mr. Obama.

At the fundraiser, the president called Hamad "a big promoter of democracy" throughout the Middle East - except in his own country.

"He himself is not reforming significantly," the president said. "There's no big move towards democracy in Qatar."

It's a rare public swipe at a leader the U.S. hails as a friend and a partner - especially in the U.S.-NATO coalition to protect Libyan opposition from the Muammar Qaddafi regime.

But spokesman Carney said "there's nothing - nothing (Mr. Obama) said that contradicts anything he said in public."

It was not possible to find out if any staffers in the White House Communications Agency were reprimanded (or worse) for the mistake of enabling the president's remarks to be heard in the press room.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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