In the wake of the Shirley Sherrod debacle, and his Keystone Kops-eqsue role in it, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shifted into a full damage-control mode this afternoon. He reportedly called Shirley Sherrod to offer her back her job (she was, at publication time, still considering), held a press conference at the Agriculture Department at which he offered her a public apology and prepared to follow it up with a reported confab with the Congressional Black Caucus.
So much for limiting the fall-out from the Breitbart video.
At the press conference, Vilsack told reporters that he had apologized to Sherrod for the pain and discomfort her family has experienced, and allowed her to vent her feelings. She was, he said, “extraordinarily gracious” while he accepted responsibility for the circumstances. He told the press that he asked her for personal forgiveness and she had give it to him.
Vilsack noted that her history as a claimant against the Agriculture Department in the Pigford Case, her experiences with the department and in helping farmers in the area make her uniquely qualified for to work for USDA. He reported that he had offered her a new position within USDA and she was considering whether to accept.
Vilsack denied there was any pressure from the White House to ask Sherrod to resign, and said it was his decision alone — one that he regrets and which was made in haste. Vilsack said he made his decision after seeing a transcript of Breitbart’s clipped video. In the midst of the chaos, he did say that the White House’s liaison’s office was inform but that the decision to request her resignation was his alone.
In response to a question from TPMDC, Vilsack called the debacle “a teachable moment for me.” He admitted that Sherrod had received advance notice of Breitbart’s intention to (mis)use the clip and had attempted to inform her superiors, including Vilsack, by email — but the email did not get through, and thus her superiors’ first contact with her regarding the incident was after Breitbart’s release of the clip.
Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro