White House gave final “go-ahead,” supporting Breitbart defense in defamation case that it was political decision.
We have written many times about the Shirley Sherrod case against Andrew Breitbart (now his wife is substituted as defendant) and Larry O’Connor over an “edited” (abbreviated) video which Sherrod alleges unfairly depicted her as racist leading to her firing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sherrod’s claim, repeated mindlessly by the media, is that the full video showed that Sherrod was not racist, but merely relating a story about how her initial ill-will towards a white farmer decades ago was overcome by the realization that race should not be a factor.
I have analyzed the video frame by frame, and in fact Sherrod’s alleged revelation that she overcame those racial feelings was in the “edited” video, as this screen capture shows:
Sherrod was fired precipitously by the USDA, despite her telling USDA that she felt the “edited” video was misleading.
The White House consistently denied direct decision making in the firing, seeking to portray it as a precipitous decision by then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The supposed lack of White House involvement is important in the defamation case, because it makes a more direct alleged connection between the “edited” video and the firing by Vilsack.
The L.A. Times reported on July 21, 2010 about denials of White House involvement:
As the video went viral, putting pressure on the White House to respond, Vilsack made the quick decision Monday to dismiss Sherrod.
“This is a good woman. She’s been put through hell,” Vilsack said Wednesday. “I could have done and should have done a better job.” Vilsack said the decision to fire Sherrod had been his and his alone….
The White House role in the firing remains unclear. Vilsack denied he had received any “pressure” but said he discussed his actions with a White House liaison….
The White House denied that it sought Sherrod’s resignation.
Robert Gibbs, then press secretary, evaded questions about White House involvement:
But Gibbs, speaking at his daily briefing, repeatedly brushed aside questions about the White House’s role in the firing. He refused to say why no one objected to the decision — and even to name the senior administration officials who were first told of Vilsack’s decision late Monday.
“I think there are a number of people that are responsible,” he said. “I think there are a number of people responsible at the USDA,” Gibbs said. “I think, you know, I think there are a number of people that have been involved in this situation at many different levels and at many different venues that will, as a result of this, take a look at the actions and decisions that were made.”
Over time, circumstantial evidence mounted that the White House was involved in the decision.
In March 2012, Judicial Watch obtained documents suggesting a chain of events involving the White House:
However, the emails obtained by Judicial Watch reveal that the Obama administration had early knowledge and was involved in subsequent decisions. For example:
- 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.”
In the Sherrod civil lawsuit, there is no longer reason to speculate. The smoking gun has been filed in the court docket, after attempts by the government to prevent release, as part of a document filing by defendant Larry O’Connor (full embed at bottom of post).
The AP reports, New Emails Show White House Role in Sherrod Ouster:
A 2010 email from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says his department was “waiting for the go-ahead” from the White House before accepting the resignation of employee Shirley Sherrod, according to newly released documents, despite Obama administration assertions that her ouster was Vilsack’s decision alone.
The email, which was made public Friday in an ongoing federal court case over the matter, shed more light on the evening of July 19, 2010, when the USDA hastily asked Sherrod to resign after a video showing her making supposed racist remarks surfaced on a conservative website….
“She has offered her resignation which is appropriate,” reads an email from the initials “TJV” to Dallas Tonsager, then the USDA undersecretary of rural development and Sherrod’s boss. “The WH is involved and we are waiting for the go-ahead to accept her resignation. I suspect some direction from WH soon.”
The USDA would not comment on the email and a spokesman, when asked, did not dispute that Vilsack wrote it. The email, sent at 5:37 p.m. on July 19, is in reply to an earlier email from Tonsager addressed to “Mr. Secretary.” Vilsack’s middle name is James.
Here is the email in question:
The AP report continues, noting that there were several other critical emails revealed:
White House officials acknowledged weeks later they had been more involved than they initially let on and had stayed in close touch with USDA that night. They still maintained, however, that the decision to seek Sherrod’s resignation was Vilsack’s alone.
The newly released emails also reveal for the first time missives between White House officials that night. By law, members of the public and the press cannot request internal White House documents directly from the White House.
In one email, then-White House Director of Presidential Personnel Nancy Hogan writes to other White House officials that Sherrod has offered to resign and says they will “need to determine what we say about resignation.”
After the full video came out the next day, frustrated White House officials vented to one another through emails. Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that “I would not have fired her for it. We just don’t need any of it.”
“Agreed,” Gibbs replied.
There was nothing in the abbreviated Breitbart video that was inaccurate or deceptive. The termination decision was political, coming from the White House, as the new emails show.
The AP story quotes O’Connor’s lawyers as follows:
Lawyers for Breitbart colleague O’Connor filed the emails in court to bolster their argument that government decisions were the reason for Sherrod’s dismissal, not the blog post. The emails show that the officials were made aware there might be a longer video, and that they were concerned about political fallout from her comments. O’Connor’s lawyers argue that the “deliberative process” exemptions prove their point.
“The government cannot assert a privilege to shield the production of decision-making communications, while simultaneously claiming to have had no role in a decision,” the lawyers wrote in their filing.
This story is not over.
We will continue to follow it. In the meantime, we encourage readers to go through the full document production below, and alert me via the comment section as to other emails that are important in debunking the narrative that the “edited” video of Shirley Sherrod was the cause of her firing.
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