Despite White House statements to the contrary, the Obama administration approved of the decision to fire U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod on July 19, 2010, based on what were believed to be racist statements she made at a NAACP meeting, Judicial Watch has confirmed.
Although former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claimed the White House had no part in the decision, the government watchdog has acquired documents that show Obama officials helped draft and approve the secretary of Agriculture’s acceptance of Sherrod’s forced resignation.
“The Sherrod firing was clearly an embarrassment for the Obama administration, but that is no excuse for the Obama White House to cover up its role in the decision to fire Sherrod,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama White House would rather we just accept their explanations, but facts can be pesky things. The documents clearly show that White House officials played a key role in the decision to force Sherrod’s resignation and then misled the American people about that role.”
Judicial Watch obtained 282 pages of documents – in addition to 900 documents disclosed in October 2010 – following an Aug. 2, 2010, Freedom of Information Act request.
The newest set of documents contains internal emails between U.S. Department of Agriculture employees and White House staffers as they formulated a public response to a quickly emerging controversy over the dismissal of Sherrod, who served as the USDA’s Georgia state director of rural development.
When the firing didn’t go as planned, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claimed “this was… a decision that was made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture” and rejected allegations that the Obama White House had been involved in the resignation.
According to Judicial Watch, the emails reveal the Obama administration had been aware of the situation early on and was involved in ensuing decisions. The organization listed the following revelations:
- When informed on July 19, 2010, about Sherrod’s statements at the NAACP meeting, then-White House spokesperson Reid Cherlin emailed then-USDA Director of Communications Chris Mather “[H]as she been fired?”
- In an effort to emphasize what Vilsack needed to say to the press former Special Assistant to the President and White House Cabinet Communications Director Tom Gavin emailed to Mather on July 19, 2010, “Just [t]o be clear, this is the Secretary’s quote, right?” Mather responded, “I think it should be, don’t you,” to which Gavin replied, “absolutely.”
- As events unfolded on July 19, 2010, Mather emailed Gavin at the White House, “Did you connect with the NAACP?” Gavin responded, “OPE [Office of Public Engagement] did. We’ll be fine.”
Judicial Watch explains that one email string reveals Gavin oversaw the drafting and acquired counsel approval of the statement by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on July 19, 2010.
Vilsack stated, “Today, I accepted Ms. Sherrod’s resignation. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person.”
Gavin approved the copy in a July 19, 2010, email, stating: “We are good with this version on this end.”
Sherrod, who is black, claimed that the Obama administration compelled her to quit her job after a video clip of a speech she presented at a NAACP gathering appeared online. In the video released by the late conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, Sherrod told of her reluctance to assist a white farmer in saving his property. Later in the speech, she explained how she worked with the farmer and his wife during a two-year period to help stop foreclosure.
Judicial Watch explained that, in anticipation of a firestorm over Sherrod’s controversial comments, the White House and USDA acted quickly to quell the expected uproar.
Sherrod told CNN that USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development Cheryl Cook phoned her three times, stressing that the White House wanted her to resign.
Nonetheless, Gibbs denied the White House’s role in the decision.