Politics

Vilsack takes the blame, offered White House his resignation

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reportedly said that he offered to resign over the department's handling of former employee Shirley Sherrod - furthering Vilsack's insistence that the blame lies with him, despite Sherrod's assertion she was told that the White House was behind the decision to have her fired.

Sherrod was removed from her position as the Georgia state director for rural development at the USDA after a video surfaced of her giving a speech in which she said she once refused to help a white farmer because of his race. It soon became clear the comment was taken out of context. Sherrod was in fact illustrating a point about overcoming racial challenges - and in the end, Sherrod had, in fact, gone on to help the farmer.

Vilsack told Politico that he made a hurried decision to put Sherrod on administrative leave,after an aide showed him a few lines of Sherrod's speech shortly after it appeared online.

Vilsack recalled his reaction. "Good Lord, this is not going to help the department." He said he realized later that there was a lot more to the story than those few sentences.

Vilsack said once he realized his mistake, he spoke with both White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House senior counselor David Axelrod and offered to resign. He says he learned "there was no appetite for resignation at the White House."

Shirley Sherrod told CNN Tuesday night that she stands by her assertion that the White House, ultimately, made the call.

"He [Vilsack] did the correct thing. He took the blame. That's what he's supposed to do," Sherrod said on Anderson Cooper 360. "But I know what I was told - the White House wanted me to resign."

In the wake of the public uproar, Vilsack offered Sherrod a number of jobs, including her one old - but Sherrod has declined them all. "I think in light of everything that's happened," she told CNN, "it would be difficult."

Vilsack, for his part, continues to apologize - and to blame himself.

"I know that I disappointed the President. I disappointed this administration. I disappointed the country. I disappointed Shirley," he said at a press conference on Tuesday. "I have to live with that and I accept that responsibility. That's what happens when you have this kind of position."