WASHINGTON — 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.
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 her resignation hours later.
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 Fox News on July 19, 2010.