Friday, October 08, 2010

USDA e-mails show Vilsack and deputy fired Sherrod knowing they didn't know the full story

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials knew they did not have all the facts before they fired department official Shirley Sherrod over the summer but moved ahead with the decision anyway, internal e-mails revealed. "The day after Sherrod's ouster, even as USDA officials acknowledged in internal memos that they had not seen the full video," released by a conservative blogger that painted Sherrod as a racist, Peter Nicholas and Kathleen Hennessey report for the Los Angeles Times. "A White House senior aide e-mailed them to commend the department for moving quickly so the story would not gain 'traction'," though no e-mail indicated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted at the White House's direction. Some e-mails were redacted.

"Within the USDA, the messages show, government officials had moved at breakneck pace to try to beat the news cycle, leaving little time to ask questions, seek legal advice or consider Sherrod's side of the story," the reporters write. The e-mails, which the Times and The Washington Post obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, show USDA asked Sherrod to resign even after she told the department there was a full video of the speech that would show the full context of her comments. She wrote in her resignation, typed on a BlackBerry."I feel so disappointed that the secretary and the president let a misrepresentation of my words on the part of the tea party be the reason to ask me to resign. Please look at the tape and see that I use the story from 1986 to show people that the issue is not about race but about those who have versus those who do not."

The initial 2½-minute clip, posted online by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, showed Sherrod telling a Georgia NAACP meeting she had been reluctant to provide a white farmer with help in 1986 because of his race. The NAACP subsequently released the full video, in which Sherrod "said the encounter with the white farmer taught her that poor people of all races need help, which she resolved to give." Vilsack and President Obama both apologized to Sherrod, who declined their offer of a a higher-ranking job in the department. (Read more)

UPDATE, Oct. 9: Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California tells Nicholas that he wants to meet with Vilsack to discuss Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's statement in an e-mail that political appointees have a duty to "protect the president." (Read more)

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