The Obama White House gave the final “go-ahead” to accept the resignation of former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod in July 2010 following the release of a video by Andrew Breitbart which purported to show her making racist comments, new emails reveal.
The revelation is significant because it shows the White House had deeper involvement in Sherrod’s forced resignation that it has let on in the past.
“The [White House] is involved and we are waiting for the go-ahead to accept her resignation. I suspect some direction from WH soon,” Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack wrote in a July 19, 2010, email to Sherrod’s boss Dallas Tonsager, The Associated Press reported Monday.
The email was included in federal court documents released on Friday. The blog Legal Insurrection posted the entirety of the emails included with the court filings at its website.
The decision-making process leading up to Sherrod’s force ouster factors into a defamation lawsuit Sherrod, which the former Georgia USDA regional official filed against Andrew Breitbart and his business partner Larry O’Connor after she resigned.
Breitbart, who is now deceased, published a portion of a video of Sherrod, who is black, telling a crowd at an NAACP event about an encounter she had two decades before with a white farmer in which she said she was reluctant to help him because of his race.
After Breitbart’s video went viral, Sherrod was forced to quit her position.
But Sherrod was vindicated the next day when video from the rest of her speech came to light. It showed that she referenced her encounter with the white farmer to make a larger point about racial reconciliation.
Sherrod was offered her job back, but she declined. In 2011, Sherrod filed a defamation lawsuit against Breitbart and O’Connor claimed their video made her appear racist. When the conservative publisher died in 2012, Sherrod sued his widow.
Attorneys for O’Connor and Breitbart’s wife claim Sherrod was forced to resign not because of the publication of the video, but because of federal officials’ knee-jerk reaction to the outcry following the video’s release.
They have also argued that their clients should not be liable since Sherrod reportedly told the USDA about the existence of the video several days before it was published which she claimed did not convey the full context of her remarks.
After Sherrod’s resignation, Breitbart said his goal in publishing the video was not to get Sherrod fired. He maintained that he published the video to shine a light on the reaction of the NAACP audience to Sherrod’s remarks, and not to affect her job.
“They were the ones that took the initiative to get rid of her,” Breitbart said on CNN the day after the video was published.
Vilsack said after Sherrod was let go that he alone made the decision. The White House reluctantly acknowledged that it had communicated with the Department of Agriculture over how to handle the situation. But White House officials maintained that they had no involvement in Sherrod’s forced resignation.
“The emails confirm what we said at the time, which is that the White House had no involvement in the decision made regarding Ms. Sherrod’s employment, her firing, but were made aware of the decision that had been made by the Department of Agriculture,” former White House press secretary Jay Carney said in 2012, upon the release of a batch of emails sent between the White House and USDA.
The new email undermines Carney’s statement.
The attorney for Breitbart’s wife called the new document “extremely telling,” writing in a court filing that it “contains a statement that is arguably inconsistent with the public statements.”