E-mails show Vilsack hastily decided to oust Sherrod

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In the talking points, officials are urged to answer any questions about the video being taken out of context by saying it is “our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers.”

In the early hours of July 20, the White House complimented the department for handling Mrs. Sherrod’s dismissal so quickly. “Just wanted you to know that this dismissal came up at our morning staff meeting today,” wrote Christopher Lu, White House liaison to the Cabinet, to Mr. Vilsack’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. “Everyone complemented USDA on how quickly you took this action. It’s an unpleasant story, but getting on top of this fast blunts any traction it will get.”

But the tables quickly turned. As the day wore on and Mrs. Sherrod made her case on television, more questions were raised about the context of the speech. After the full video was released by the NAACP that night, Mr. Vilsack decided to reverse the decision.

USDA declined to release Mr. Vilsack’s phone logs. But the e-mails refer to Mr. Vilsack’s conversations with top White House aides and black leaders, including Jesse Jackson, the evening of July 20 as he decided whether to reverse his initial decision.

Some of the e-mails are redacted by USDA in the release, though most are not. As officials e-mailed their concerns over the affair, it is clear they knew their words may eventually be read and kept many of their negotiations offline.

“Not for e-mail,” wrote Carole Jett, deputy chief of staff, as she instructed one official to see someone for a briefing on the issue.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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