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Sherrod firing: emails reveal White House role

The Obama administration has released nearly 2000 pages of documents that document communications between the USDA and the West Wing.

By Mary Clare JalonickThe Associated Press / March 8, 2012



White House officials were in close contact with the Agriculture Department in the hours leading up to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's decision to fire USDA employee Shirley Sherrod in 2010, according to nearly 2,000 pages of internal emails released by the administration.

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Emails obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act don't contradict Vilsack's assertion that he made the decision to oust Sherrod as the department's director of rural development in Georgia after an edited video of her making supposed racist remarks surfaced on a conservative website.

But they do show the White House and Agriculture Department officials were sharing information and advice from the first minutes after the scandal began to emerge until Sherrod submitted a resignation hours later at the request of a senior USDA official.

USDA officials asked Sherrod, who is black, to resign after the original video emerged. Once it became clear a day later that Sherrod's speech was about racial reconciliation, not division, Vilsack apologized and asked her to return to the department — an offer she declined. President Barack Obama also offered an apology after her ouster created a racial firestorm.

Agriculture Department officials exchanged more than two dozen e-mails with their White House counterparts as the story began to hit conservative websites and later Fox News the afternoon and evening of July 19, 2010. The video — posted on the website BigGovernment.com, run by the late Andrew Breitbart — showed Sherrod saying she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer more than two decades earlier.

USDA director of communications Chris Mather sent the White House press office a heads-up email describing the video.

"She goes on to make it a larger case about understanding race .... but looks bad. (Fox News host Bill) O'Reilly just called us for statement," Mather says in the email.

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, responds, asking Mather in an email what USDA is going to say about the matter, "and has she been fired? I'll alert folks here."

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