E-Mails Show Rush to Judgment on Sherrod
October 8th, 2010
10:44 AM ET
4 years ago

E-Mails Show Rush to Judgment on Sherrod

Updated 11:08 a.m. with statement from Sherrod after the jump

(CNN) - Newly released documents give the public its first look inside the Obama administration's internal deliberations over whether to fire Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod, and the hundreds of e-mails clearly confirm officials pushed her out for political reasons despite knowing they did not have the full context of the explosive video that thrust her into the national spotlight.

There is no smoking gun proving Sherrod's original allegation that the White House forced the Agriculture Department to fire her in order to contain any political damage. But the documents do show that top White House aides like then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel were keeping tabs on the matter as it unfolded, and in the initial hours after her firing other White House officials were thankful that Sherrod had been ousted so quickly.

"Just wanted you to know that this dismissal came up at our morning senior staff meeting today," Christopher Lu, who serves as the White House's liaison to the Cabinet, wrote to senior Agriculture officials on the morning of July 20, the day after Sherrod was fired.

"Everyone complimented USDA on how quickly you took this action," Lu wrote, noting that the swift move helped stop an "unpleasant story" from gaining any "traction" in the early hours of the flare-up.

"Thanks for the great efforts," Lu concluded to the Agriculture officials.

Another Agriculture Department e-mail later on July 20, as public outrage grew on the second day of the imbroglio, shows that Emanuel spoke at least once to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as the administration weighed whether to apologize to Sherrod and offer her a new job. "Rahm calling Secy now," the e-mail said.

The e-mails, obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request, also show that Vilsack pressured his staff to get rid of Sherrod even though officials within his department knew full well that there may have been more context to the video showing that in fact Sherrod was not racist.

The story first blew up on July 19, when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted online a brief video clip of Sherrod, who is African-American, delivering a speech to an NAACP convention earlier this year. Breitbart only posted the part of the speech where Sherrod recounted an episode where she decided to not help a white farmer who needed government aid to stay afloat.

Breitbart, however, did not include longer parts of the speech which showed that Sherrod explained to the audience that the incident occurred many years ago - not during the Obama administration - and that she eventually helped the white farmer. Her message in the speech was all about reconciliation and helping people of all races, a point that was drowned out in the selectively-edited clip that gave the impression that an Obama official had deliberately let a white farmer go belly up.

The e-mails show that after the Agriculture Department learned that the partial video had been posted, and that other media outlets like Fox News Channel might be following up on it, there was alarm within the Obama administration about potential fallout.

"I was just informed of a video of the Georgia State Director that was posted on the Internet earlier this afternoon," Agriculture Department official wrote at 1:56 p.m. on July 19. "It speaks for itself and you need to watch it right away."

But the e-mails also show that some Obama officials were cautious and urged that the full video be tracked down before there was a rash decision about Sherrod's fate.

"We need to make sure someone has seen the video," Agriculture official Krysta Harden wrote in an e-mail at 3:06 p.m. on July 19. "I am quick to jump to conclusions but want to be certain it is what it is said to be before I tell the Secy" she said in reference to Vilsack.

But another Agriculture official, Carol Jett, piped in otherwise: "We need to take immediate action."

Harden added that Vilsack "is absolutely sick and mad over the S Sherrod issue. He wants her immediately on [administrative] leave."

"Concur," wrote Agriculture official John Berge. "She should be fired."

Sherrod was eventually fired by top Vilsack aide Cheryl Cook. Sherrod repeatedly told CNN that Cook told her she had to step aside because the White House wanted her out, though the administration denied that was the reason.

Within two days of the firing, Vilsack acknowledged there should have been a fuller examination of the facts before she was fired. Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and offered her a new job.

Sherrod has still not accepted the post, and she did not return a call on Friday seeking reaction to the release of the emails.

Statement from Shirley Sherrod Regarding Chain of Emails Leading to Her Dismissal:

"While the newly reported details surrounding my dismissal from the United States Department of Agriculture shed light on decisions that were made within the Department, I have accepted the apologies of both President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

I do believe, however, that this incident is an undeniable teaching moment for this country. As we continue to examine the importance of diversity among all ranks of government and the private sector, we cannot forget that racism still exists. We need to combat it once and for all and I look forward to taking an active role in leading that national conversation.

I have always said that I support President Obama and I am available to him and his administration as we find a way to work together to eradicate racism and racial views that are dividing this nation and us as American citizens."

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. anp2j

    The obama admin are spineless...this is one good example of tht.

    October 8, 2010 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  2. Vote for freedom and economic recovery - vote R

    Democrats eat their own. The Obama administration was fine kicking Sherrod out. Sherrod was willing to verbally attack the people that stood up for her (many conservative talk/TV shows) instead of those that forced her out (White House) or made public statements (NAACP)....

    One more reason why the democrats need to be out of politics this year.

    October 8, 2010 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  3. Denny

    What a bunch of screwups destroying a good person's life. Can we fire the WH staff along with the Democratic Congress in November?

    October 8, 2010 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  4. T'SAH from Virginia

    This does not PROVE anything else. Although I sympathize with Sherrod, this story is DEAD!! She should continue to SUE the real culprit – BreitFART!!

    "But the documents do show that top White House aides like then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel were keeping tabs on the matter as it unfolded..."

    Duh, top officials should keep tabs on issues – this does not mean they said FIRE HER!!!

    Thisi s T'SAH and I approve this message!!

    October 8, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. diridi

    why prolonging? Is she wanting to stay in lime light? Tell you, it is not the right time...stay out of it. After Democratic election, you can come into picture...you are like Jaramiah....The church guy....just keep quiet...o.k....work for Democratic win....nation is in big trouble...GOP thugs rob the election and mess again like a "Hell". cooperate...lady...

    October 8, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  6. S in Rfld

    I think a few heads need to roll in the agriculture dept and possibly in the WH with so few voices urging restraint. Why was everyone so quick to believe Breitbart with his clear agenda? Why care if Fox picks it up? They'll twist and turn any story against the Obama administration so you might as well ignore them and the 'outraged' masses. They didn't support you before the story broke anyway. You gain absolutely nothing by appeasing Fox and their audience. The vast majority of their viewers will vote Tea Party/GOP anyway so why waste your energy trying to reach out?

    WH/AD should simply have been quiet while they spent a few hours gathering the facts, the original clip in this case. Then *pound* on Breitbart to completely discredit him.

    Spineless behavior by the WH and AD. Shame on them. They could have used this to pop a few holes in the GOP propaganda machine. Instead they played right into their hands.

    October 8, 2010 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  7. Jerry

    Could it be they already knew she had won a law suit against the US goverment, yes probably so. The more I learn about this women the more I despise her type.

    October 8, 2010 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  8. sp2016

    Do you really think this is still news worthy?? Please..enough

    October 8, 2010 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. therealmarie

    Repeat of a now 3rd rate story ny a 3rd rate channel. Move on, find new feces to throw at the president. This one has lost alot of its smell especially since CNN has embraced the real culprit in this matter... Breitbart.

    October 8, 2010 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. LouAz

    Shirley Sherrod was the only one in this character assasination that showed any class and common sense.

    October 8, 2010 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Marc L from NY

    As much as I dislike the current President, the truth is this is more about politics than who is in the Oval Office. I think it is safe to assume that Andrew Breitbart knew full well what he posted and the reaction it would cause, and the boldness of it is just as sickening as his intentions. The rush to judgement by the administration I think would have been the same regardless of is occupying the White House.

    October 8, 2010 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  12. Virginia

    This is old news and has been for some time. The article specifically states that there is "no smoking gun" with regard to the WH involvement, which was undoubtedly what the media is looking for by continuing to chase after these e-mails.
    From Shirley Sherrod's statement, sounds like she wants to put this incident in perspective and move on.

    The timing of the release of these e-mails is suspect by the way. This was a racially divisive incident ginned up by an unethical Fox news operative. Why are we still pursuing it, when there is no new information? Is it just to remind everybody of it in case the public has forgotten about it right before the election???

    October 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  13. Bob from SC

    And is there "anybody" who seriously thought there was not a huge "politically motivated" ( the FACTS being a secondary consideration) push behind her firing? Sorry, but I am probably one of those who has come to view many in the political arena (many elected officials and a fair number of the government employees directly supporting them) as being "somewhat less" than the "cream of the crop". There are MANY exceptions, but it only takes a few to spoil the image of them all.

    October 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. Indie Woman in Denver

    Every time I read further details of what happened in this incident, I am more disappointed over the actions of some of the beaurocrats in the Dept of Agriculture. We already know there's been a culture of, at the very least, insensitivity, if not outright racism in that organization. Maybe a few high-level heads should roll meaning firing them) so the culture of the organization can change. This is about way more than Mrs Sherrod, but out of everyone involved, she alone maintained her integrity & dignity.

    October 8, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  15. Hazel

    So why has she not filed a lawsuit against the Dept of Ag, instead of the guy who posted the video sent to him from someone at the NAACP convention?

    October 8, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  16. Nita

    I think she has a knack for suing the government cause don't you think the reason she didn't taken a new position offered to her is so she can sue. There is so much more to this story.

    October 8, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  17. CNN+corporate america=match made in hell

    Pretty clear to me. Vilsack is the scumbag that rushed to judgement. And he is a department head! Gotta help the people's confidence there! GET RID OF THE SHILL! We also don't need people running departments that are prone to such a knee-jerk reaction without checking the facts first. I would hope that political appointees were a little more thoughtful before they acted. This, unfortunately, is a bipartisan malady.

    October 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  18. Victoria Hudson

    My personal experience with government, corporations and others in American business today is that "incompetence" is the main disability – a disability that is a symptom of Americans' deep-seated racism. This "incompetence" – largely a result of WHITE affirmative action – where whites with much less abilities than their non-white counterparts – are often promoted to higher positions, despite their significant LACK OF qualifications. Moreover, the comparisons being made between a Harvard Graduate and a Journalism graduate who took six years to hear a bachelor's degree only proves the point.

    October 8, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. Angela

    Why is this still in the news? I am a black male and school teacher, and Sherrod painted a racist picture for our people by saying such things in her video. How anyone can deny that is beyond me.

    October 8, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  20. WyoTex

    I doubt that the media would push so hard to determine whether or not a white male was actually guilty of racism following his being fired for something that was heard "out of context." How many white men have been railroaded out of jobs and were never given the benefit of the doubt by the liberal media?

    October 8, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  21. chris

    just another example of the obama admin. appointed people love of throwing people under the bus

    October 8, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  22. Marcw

    Can we say that the administration acted stupidly??

    October 8, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  23. 25 Days until Socialism dies in the United States

    Hmmmm... didn't the Whitehouse deny they were involved in this? Sure doesn't look that way from these emails. Maybe this is why Rahm hit the road and is now pan handling in Chicago?

    Just more lies in an endless stream of lies from this Whitehouse.

    October 8, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  24. Anonymous

    It appears, to me, that a couple of staffers failed at their jobs and should suffer the consequences. How can anyone have faith in them when they knowingly made a crucial decision WITHOUT all of the facts. It was a rush to judgement, and miscues like this should not be tolerated!

    October 8, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  25. Jesus

    Goes to show that white people run the U.S.. If it were a white man making racial statements, then no one would have ever heard about it. This hard working african american woman was exploited. America is making me sicker and sicker everyday.

    October 8, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
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