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.
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