Agriculture Department officials exchanged more than two dozen e-mails with their White House counterparts as the story began to hit conservative websites and later Fox News the afternoon and evening of July 19, 2010. The video — posted on the website BigGovernment.com, run by the late Andrew Breitbart — showed Sherrod saying she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer more than two decades earlier.
USDA director of communications Chris Mather sent the White House press office a heads-up email describing the video.
"She goes on to make it a larger case about understanding race .... but looks bad. (Fox News host Bill) O'Reilly just called us for statement," Mather says in the email.
White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, responds, asking Mather in an email what USDA is going to say about the matter, "and has she been fired? I'll alert folks here."
Mather answers, telling Cherlin that Sherrod had been placed on administrative leave. "I guess some folks over there are circling wagons," Mather says, referring to the White House.
At the same time, Valerie Green of the White House presidential personnel office was emailing the USDA's White House liaison, Kevin Washo, asking him to loop her in, "Please. Please. Please."
Washo emails back to her, "I tried calling you."
In a separate email exchange with Green, Washo asked for records the White House might have on Sherrod, who was a political appointee. Green says she is working on it. Washo replies: "Let me know what counsel says so we can be decisive on this."
In a later email, Green says, "I still think we need the rest of the speech if we can get it."
Despite those concerns, USDA officials extracted the resignation from Sherrod that evening. In an email, she offered her resignation but put the Obama administration "on notice that I will get the whole story out." The next day, Sherrod appeared on numerous television news programs, saying she was unfairly asked to leave.