WASHINGTON — The secretary of agriculture was warned that he may not have the full story as he stuck by his decision to oust Shirley Sherrod, the department worker who was wrongly accused of racism, e-mails released by USDA show.
Agriculture Department officials asked Sherrod to leave her job as Georgia's director of rural development July 19 after comments she made in March were misconstrued as racist. She later received numerous apologies from the administration, including from the president himself, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked her to return.
Vilsack has acknowledged that he made the decision quickly without seeing the full tape. He was traveling when the story broke, and an official traveling with him e-mailed other aides that the secretary was "absolutely sick and mad over the S Sherrod issue" after seeing news clips about it.
His decision to ask her to resign that day is not detailed in the e-mails. The communications do show that he had early indications, however, that Sherrod's comments were being misconstrued by the conservative blogosphere as USDA moved to oust her.
Later that night, Vilsack was forwarded Sherrod's official resignation, which included her defense once more. She said she felt "so disappointed" by the decision that she was asked to resign because of a misrepresentation of her words, and she urged them all to look at the tape. She noted she did everything she could to save the white farmer's farm and said he became a good friend.
"I submit my resignation but in doing so want to put the administration on notice that I will get the whole story out," she wrote in the e-mail that was forwarded to Vilsack. "My whole life speaks to my commitment to fairness whether white or black."