Point of Clarification

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July 20, 2010 1:11 p.m.

There’s been some confusion today over one aspect of this Breitbart/USDA story that I want to try to clear up.

Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official forced out, did an on camera interview with CNN at midday. In the interview, Sherrod described the pressure she came under yesterday from within the USDA to resign her post in light of the Breitbart video. Shortly after that, the Washington Post had a write-up of the interview in which they quote Sherrod as saying, “I got three calls from the White House. At one point they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and do it because you are going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”Now that purported declaration — that she got three calls from the White House demanding her resignation — seems off to anyone who follows these things. Sherrod is a low-level official. The White House wouldn’t need to get involved so directly and rarely ever wants to. Why get involved directly in a mess that you can leave to a cabinet department to handle? So if Sherrod’s account of what happened yesterday is off, then how reliable is her account of the speech she gave back in March?

But here’s the thing: We can’t find any evidence she actually said that, either in the video or in CNN’s transcript. What she did say, our review of the video shows, was: “I had at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign.”

That’s very, very different.

Elsewhere in the interview, Sherrod identified the person who called her as Cheryl Cook, a deputy undersecretary at USDA. Did Cook invoke the White House in demanding her resignation? That seems to be what Sherrod is suggesting and that sounds much more plausible given what we know about how White Houses work in these situations. For the record, the White House denies any involvement.

It’s a minor point in the overall story but it’s led to some confusion today.

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