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THE SITUATION ROOM

Vilsack Apologizes, Offers New Job to Sherrod

Aired July 21, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now --

Breaking news, an apology and a job offer to the woman forced out of the government job over a snippet of tape that led to wild allegations of discrimination. This hour, my interview with Shirley Sherrod.

Also, we'll hear an unedited portion of her speech to find out what she really said about race relations in America and discrimination. A piece of that tape got so twisted in the process.

Also, race in America. Are controversies like this turning it into a nation of cowards afraid to talk about race?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.

We're following dramatic breaking news this hour. New developments surrounding the former USDA official Shirley Sherrod. The Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, says he has now apologized and offered to rehire Sherrod in a different job, adding and I'm quoting him now, "she's been put through hell."

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I've learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days. And one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn't take the time. I should have. And as a result, a good woman, has gone through a very difficult period. And I'll have to live with that for a long, long time. The decision to do what was done was done by me. It was my decision, and it was communicated, and one of the lessons learned here is that this type of decision first and foremost should have been communicated by me.

It should have been done in a much more personal way. It should have been done with far more thought, and it should have been done in far less haste. And all of those are my responsibility. And I accept that responsibility. And I ask for Shirley's forgiveness, and she was gracious enough to extend it to me, and for that, I am thankful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama isn't commenting directly on the controversy. White House aides say they don't expect him to call Sherrod, although I suspect that could change. Earlier, a spokesman said she clearly had been wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgments without a full set of facts. I think that is -- that is wholly and completely accurate. I think without a doubt Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration. I think if we look back and decide what we want to learn out of this, I think it is, as I said, everybody involved made determinations without knowing all of the facts and all of the events.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I interviewed Shirley Sherrod earlier today just before she spoke directly to the Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Painful as it was to hear from your superiors over at the Department of Agriculture, and to get this statement from the White House that later came out, I suspect it was even more painful for you personally to be rejected and repudiated by the NAACP, an organization you've worked with and admired for so many years.

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL: Yes. Now, that hurt. I guess more than being asked to resign from the Department of Agriculture, because my whole life has been about civil rights. My whole life has been about equal rights, and for an organization like the NAACP to come out with the initial statement that they came out with really, really hurt.

BLITZER: And they subsequently have reversed their decision, and they called you to apologize, is that right?

SHERROD: Yes. That's exactly right. Ben Jealous, himself, called me, and his first statement was that he wanted to apologize, and before I allowed him to go on to say anything else, I told him right away, I accept it. You know, I wanted him to know that I truly accepted it, and we could move on.

BLITZER: You know, even before he called you and issued that statement saying that they regret what has happened, you know that here on CNN, Donna Brazile was on my show saying the NAACP is wrong, the Department of Agriculture is wrong, the White House is wrong, and she publicly appealed to all of them to come up with the right decision and do the right thing. I don't know if you saw that.

SHERROD: No, I didn't see that. And I really appreciate her for doing that.

BLITZER: Because she saw that there was an injustice, and she spoke out. She deserves a lot of credit because she went back and looked at that tape, and she saw the context, and it clearly showed that you were not a racist or anything like that. You were speaking from some very personal experiences that you had. Did you hear from Andrew Breitbart, the conservative publisher, who initially published that edited clip of what you were saying?

SHERROD: No, I didn't. I didn't even know of him until yesterday, but I haven't heard anything from him. He didn't contact me before he put that out, and he certainly has not contacted me since.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, that we, we, Americans, essentially, in his words of last year were essentially a nation of cowards when it comes to discussing race?

SHERROD: I certainly agree with that. You know, you can look at this. If we could have the open discussions, maybe we could, in some way, try to move forward. I think those discussions need to be held a lot at the local level, you know, the level where I was, and also from the top. But somehow, I don't know what is going to take for this country, but we really have to figure this out if we expect this great country, the United States of America, to move forward in the future in the way we need to move forward. We are mixed here. It's not all one race in this country and never will be, you know. So, we need to figure out how to live together.

BLITZER: Are you as concerned as am I that maybe this whole incident will make all of us ever more reluctant to openly discuss race?

SHERROD: I hope not. I hope not. I hope -- you know, having gone through this, that in some big way, small way, whatever which way you want to look at it, that it helps us to be able to put that discussion out here, so that we can keep trying to deal with it. We will not solve it if we just try to put it under the table every time it surfaces. We have to discuss it and figure out how to move forward.

BLITZER: You have an amazing personal story and I briefly want you to share what happened to your father, and if he were around, how he would look at what's happening right now?

SHERROD: Oh, my goodness. You know, in 45 years, I have not missed one day of thinking about my father, and the impact he had on my life during his lifetime and even since his death. My father meant everything to us. He was a great leader in the community. And I know he would be proud. You know, if I go back to my grandfather, his father, you know, they always pushed us to get an education, but one thing about my family, both my mother's side and my father's side, they always pushed us to reach back and help others.

That's one thing about people from the county that I come from, Baker County. We always looked at reaching out to help others. People did it back then, we continue the do it now.

BLITZER: And remind our viewers if they don't know how your dad died. SHERROD: My father was murdered by a white man in Baker County who was never prosecuted even though there were witnesses. All of the witnesses were black. At the time the grand jury in our county was all White, and they refused to indict him for murder. We later tried to sue him, but our only, the only black attorney we had in Southwest Georgia, attorney C.B. King who was a very, very strong person realized that we don't know what happened, but at some point, he just said to us, it's not going to work.

It's not going to happen. I don't know. We wonder sometime whether he was threatened. We just don't know. And I've asked people. Even today, C.B. is not living now, and, in fact, they've named the courthouse in the city of Albany after him, but I would really like to know what made him just abruptly drop the case. Something happened.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see if we ever get to bottom of that, but Shirley Sherrod, thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us, for sharing your story with all of our viewers. I think it's fair to say all of us are hoping only, only for the best for you and your entire family.

SHERROD: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is coming up next with the "Cafferty File."

Then, the speech that ignited this racially charge firestorm, what Shirley Sherrod really said and the crucial context that was missing in that initial clip.

And what the controversy is revealing about race in American right now and what some call, "a nation of cowards afraid to take on these really tough issues."

Plus, my interview with Democratic congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida. He's a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. They're meeting now with the Agriculture Secretary to talk about lessons learned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time ever, 60 percent of American workers don't think they'll get any Social Security when they retire. A USA Today/Gallup Poll show 6 in 10 Americans who haven't retired yet say there'll be nothing for them when they stop working. And that's the most pessimistic outlooks since this question was first asked more than 20 years ago. Younger Americans are least likely to think that they get (ph) Social Security while those over 55 are confident that they will get benefits. A majority of retired Americans, though, think the benefits will be cut which is especially troubling when you consider that 54 percent of retirees believe say that Social Security is their major source of income more than any other single source.

Our government has yet another crisis on its hands. This one has been coming down the tracks in plain sight for years, and yet, it's not being dealt with. Already, this year, Social Security is slated to pay out more in benefits than collection contributions. And there's that whole issue of the trust fund you should pardon the word trust. It's filled with nothing, really, more than government IOUs, because the Social Security money that's collected is siphoned off into the general treasury and then spent on other things.

With a high unemployment rate, people retiring earlier than expected and more and more baby boomers getting ready to retire, something has to give, but it doesn't feel like anybody is listening. Here's the question, do you think Social Security will be there for you? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on the controversy surrounding the former USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, and the racial firestorm ignited by an excerpt from a speech she gave almost four months ago. She said from the very beginning her words were taken out of context. So here is the context, her remarks to a NAACP chapter back on March 27th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERROD: God will show you things, and he'll put things in your path so that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. All right.

SHERROD: You know, the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he's doing, but he had come to me for help. What he didn't know while he was taking all the time trying to show me he was superior to me, that I was trying to decide just how much help I will give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland and here I was faced to help a white person save their land, so I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he -- I assume that the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that or the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and he needed to go back to report that I did try to help him.

So, I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided, because chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farmer. So, I figured if I took him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him. That's when it was revealed to me that y'all, it's about poor versus those who have and not so much about white. It is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it also opened my eyes, because I took him to one of his own, and I put him in his hand and thought, OK, I've done my job.

But, during that time, we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture, and so, they couldn't foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they've done to any other farmer, black or white, and what they did to him caused him to not be able to file chapter 12 bankruptcy. So, everything was going along fine. I'm thinking he is being taken care of by the white lawyer and then they lifted the injunction against USDA in May of 1987, for two weeks, and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received the foreclosure notice.

He called me. I said, we'll go on and make an appointment with the lawyer and let me know when it is, and I will meet you there. So, we met at the lawyer's office on the date they had given him, and this lawyer sat there. He had been paying this lawyer, y'all, that's what got me. He'd been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, well, y'all didn't know and why don't y'all just let the farm go? I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer, I told him, I can't believe you said that. I said, it's obvious to me, if he cannot file a chapter 12 bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure, you have to file an 11.

And the lawyer said to me, I'll do whatever you say, whatever you think. That's the way he put it. But he's paying him. He wasn't paying me any money, you know. So, he said, the lawyer said he will work on it, and then, about seven days before that man would have been sold at the courthouse steps, the farmer called me and said, the lawyer wasn't doing anything. And that's when I spent time there in my office calling everybody I could think of to try to see, help me find a lawyer who would handle this, and finally, I remembered that I had gone to see one just 40 miles away in America was a black farmer, but working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who have not.

You know, and they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic, and it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people, those who don't have access the way others have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Those were Shirley Sherrod's unedited remarks before NAACP chapter back on March 27th. You saw the full context of what she was talking about.

Here's a little bit more on Shirley Sherrod right now. She was born in the segregated south and grew up picking crops on a farm in Georgia. She says her father was murdered as you heard her say back in 1965 by a white man who was never charged, and she says that shortly afterward, the Ku Klux Klan burned across on her lawn. She has a master's degree in community development from Antioch University in Ohio and work for 24 years as a state director of a non-profit organization helping rural communities.

Sherrod's family was awarded $300,000 as part of a 1997 class action lawsuit against the agriculture department charging it discriminated against black rural farmers. In 2009, the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed Sherrod Georgia state director of rural development, the job she held until her forced resignation this week.

Shirley Sherrod, the day after the former USDA employee is fire, she now gets an apology from her boss and a new job offer. This story is sparking lots of conversations about race in America. We're going to be taking a much deeper look.

And what was going on over at the White House as the Shirley Sherrod story was breaking. CNN's John King is standing by to join us. He has a behind the scenes look of what was going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, is now describing the U.S. economic recovery in two words, I'm quoting him quoting, "unusually uncertain." He told lawmakers on Capitol Hill today, the nation's central bank is prepared to give more help to the economy if needed. He said it's not clear what the best options are, but added, they would not necessarily be conventional. Wall Street did not like what they heard from Bernanke. The Dow fell after Bernanke's remarks and closed down 109 points.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. A terrifying scene in Eastern Iraq today. A car bomb ripped through a market in a predominantly Shia town. At least 13 people are dead and more than two dozen others are wounded. Police say women and children are among the victims.

The Pakistani American who's pleaded guilty to the botched Times Square bombing reportedly changed materials in his car bomb to avoid detection from authorities. New York's Police Commissioner says Faisal Shahzad decided to use fertilizer that wasn't as combustible and firecrackers instead of a deadlier explosive. The commissioner says it was that changed of ingredients that kept the bomb from going off. Shahzad is scheduled to be sentenced on October 5th. He now faces life in prison.

President Obama got briefed today on the latest efforts to stop the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. A new attempt to permanently seal that ruptured well could get under way this weekend if approved by federal officials. Meanwhile, critical testing continues on a well cap that has stopped the oil from gushing for almost a week, but Incident Commander Thad Allen now warns that new reports of severe weather brewing in the Caribbean could disrupt operations.

And it's a major milestone for Facebook. Today, the social networking site signed up its 500 millionth user. That makes its population bigger than that of the U.S., Mexico and France combined -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's huge. 500 million.

SYLVESTER: That's a lot of people that we're talking about on Facebook. BLITZER: Wasn't that long ago there were ten people out there, and now look, it's going on (ph). All right. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

The Shirley Sherrod controversy thrusting the issue of race front and center. We're going to talk about it with Democratic congressman, Kendrick Meek, of Florida. He is here in the SITUATION ROOM.

And we're learning new details of what's been going on behind the scenes as the White House grapples with the uproar. Our own John King is working his sources.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dramatic turn of events in the story surrounding the fired USDA worker, Shirley Sherrod. The Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has now publicly and formally apologized for forcing her out, and he's offered her a new job over at the Department of Agriculture. Vilsack fired Sherrod after a conservative website publisher posted a tape of her that appeared to her acknowledging that she discriminated against the white farmer, but it became clear rather quickly when the full tape came out that Sherrod was actually making a broad point about race.

Sherrod has told Vilsack she wants a few days to think about the new job offer. This entire controversy is putting the issue of race and how politicians are dealing with it front and center. Let's go back to Lisa Sylvester. She got more on this part of the story -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Well, you know, Shirley Sherrod was first branded a racist by the right, the left, even her bosses at the Department of Agriculture, all based on a few snippets of a speech. Today, as you mentioned, is a different day. And as it turns out, she has, in fact, over the years did a lot to help people of all races. Her story, though, is now renewing calls for national conversation on race and racism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): As a nation, the United States has made great strides in breaking color barriers with the first black president, yet experts say race relations have recently become even more charged.

MARK WILLIAMS, TEA PARTY MEMBER: The NAACP is a bunch of old dusty relics.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Make it clear that there's no space for bigots here, period.

ANDREW BREITBART, PUBLISHER, BREITBART.COM: A racism is used by the left and the Democratic Party to shut up opposition.

SYLVESTER: The NAACP has condemned the Tea Party for encouraging racism. Some in the Tea Party lashing back in turn accusing the NAACP of being a racist group. Shirley Sherrod was caught up in all of this after a conservative blogger tried to use her as a example of racism within the NAACP. But instead, she has emerged as a voice on how to narrow the racial divide. The Congressional Black Caucus says it is an opportunity for a national conversation.

REP. BARBARA LEE, CHAIRWOMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: An honest dialogue that is clear, that's bold and that's without fear.

SYLVESTER: After taking office, Eric Holder, the first African- American attorney general called the United States a nation of cowards on matters of race and avoiding the hard questions. President Obama briefly waded into the issue of race after a white police officer stopped Harvard Professor Henry Gates as he was entering his own home.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Cambridge police acted stupidly.

SYLVESTER: It ended with the now-famous beer summit between the men. But Abigail Thernstrom, a historian on race, says civil conversations are becoming rare in the current climate.

ABIGAIL THERNSTROM, RACE RELATIONS EXPERT: We need to stop the trigger-happy screaming about racism, race, race, race on the television screen blinking at you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now we now live in a world of blogs, YouTube and instant tweets and some racial experts say that may be one reason why we are reaching this current low that comments can be posted, edited, even taken out of context and the words and the images on the Internet linger. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much. Let's dig a little bit deeper now with Democratic Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek of Florida. He's here in "The Situation Room." Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. Do you agree that we are a nation of cowards essentially, the words of the attorney general, Eric Holder, when it comes to discussing race?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Well, it's been a very difficult question for the country for a very long time. We have a country of race and religion and we have a lot of folks that live differently, and we don't understand one another like we should. This particular incident that has taken place over the last 72 hours is a perfect example of how the country is so focused on this issue that there is a lot of curiosity there, and discussion is important, we passed financial reform, the largest sweeping financial reform bill in almost the history of the country, and this has taken the headlines.

BLITZER: It is such a powerful story, when you get to speak to Shirley Sherrod, as I did this today, she's an amazing woman and she was by all accounts, and I think you agree, she was wronged.

MEEK: There were a number of -- there are a number of Americans that atone every day on this issue of race, talking about how they have changed and their attitude towards other racial groups, even gender and I think it is healthy when we see this kind of story take place, when you have a right-wing group that tries to separate and divide, and to see us now come back together understanding now we know the truth, she was basically talking about her experience and how she has changed.

BLITZER: You know, Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, you can see, he has been meeting with the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. You remember the Congressional Black Caucus, explaining what happened. They want to learn lessons. This has not been a pleasant experience for Tom Vilsack, for officials at the White House, I'm sure from the president on down, for leaders of the NAACP.

And you know, I want to listen a little bit in to what some of your colleagues at the Congressional Black Caucus are saying. They're there with Tom Vilsack. I think they're getting ready to speak. Barbara Lee, the congresswoman, now let's listen in a little and then we'll discuss, congressman.

LEE: Also for the Congressional Black Caucus, for the country, and of course for the secretary. We asked the secretary to come visit with us. We wanted to talk to him about what transpired. Of course, you all have our statement earlier. We indicated that we wanted him to ask Mrs. Sherrod to come back to the Department of Agriculture in a position of empowerment.

We asked also that an apology be made and that we believed that he acted too quickly and that he did not have all of the facts. The secretary very quickly responded. He has talked to many members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He came to our meeting. He has issued an apology in a very real way. We accept his apology. He has talked to Mrs. Sherrod, and I am sure he will talk to you later about that conversation.

And we talked about the fact that this really should be a moment that we look at the Department of Agriculture and all of the issues, the historical issues not addressed, and in which he is trying to address in terms of discrimination, in terms of land grant colleges, funding for our historically black colleges and universities, the Pigford lawsuit, the black farmers issues, all of those issues which Mrs. Sherrod understands and has a keen sensitivity to, because of her life and what she has experienced through her life.

The secretary understands that very clearly, and he apologized and he -- and when one makes a mistake, we expect an apology, and he did that. And we told him that we look forward to working with him as we begin to move forward. This is a moment that our nation needs to really understand that we have to begin to discuss race. We cannot believe that this is a post-racial era. In many ways, race has been swept under the rug, and we are trying as a Congressional Black Caucus to have this conversation, and we think that the secretary will be a good partner with us in this conversation. And we thank you very much for being here and I want to thank all of the members of the black caucus for coming and thank the secretary for being with us and for being so candid. It was a very good meeting and we really believed that Mrs. Sherrod deserves our respect. She deserves our applause. Her life now has become very public and her history is one that I hope that the entire country will look at in terms of a history of transformation and redemption which we can all learn from. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Secretary Vilsack, is there some sort of --

BLITZER: That is Barbara Lee, she's the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, the congresswoman making a strong statement. We are back with Kendrick Meek, he is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus as well, running for the U.S. Senate in Florida. He's a Democrat, as we know.

I guess the major lesson all of us have to learn is don't believe everything that you see on the Internet and if you see something, investigate. Do due diligence, vet it completely before you jump to any conclusions.

MEEK: Verify, verify, verify. I couldn't help but see in the background, John Lewis, who came to this city, Washington, D.C., as a civil rights activist with black and with white and Jews and all trying to bring about the kind of harmony that we need as a country to move forward. The fact that he has lived long enough to continue to see the changes in this country.

Today as another change as how it relates to how we look at this issue of race. I think that the administration want to protect all Americans. They're making sure that no one in this administration would discriminate against anyone. The issue of the black farmers has been raised and now it is being dealt with. Secretary Vilsack is dealing with that very issue. The issue of making sure that no one is stepped upon to find that white farmer who said, if it wasn't for the work that she did, I would have lost the farm, and he is a veteran, and what better voice to have?

I think this is a moment for the country that we all learn what we should do, and we should not allow the few, the few that are not carrying the intentions of goodwill to dictate the dialogue in this country.

BLITZER: You are running against Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate. Governor Charlie Crist, he's now the Independent candidate. You want to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. Has the issue of race at all come up over these many months that you've been running?

MEEK: Well, it has been raised by reporters, and I feel that Florida is a state of people of good will. We have elected women, we have elected Hispanics, we have elected President Obama. I believe that I will be elected as the next United States senator based on my qualifications.

We know that there are some people in our society that will never vote for a woman, that will never vote for a person of color. I feel that there are more people in the state of Florida that are willing to look at me as a former state trooper, as a member of the legislature and as a productive member of Congress that will work toward some of the issues that are facing Florida. I'm excited about it.

BLITZER: I want to bring you back and I want to go through some of those issues like oil drilling off of the coast of Florida and many of the other key issues. Unfortunately, we have run out of time right now because of the breaking news.

MEEK: I understand.

BLITZER: But you understand the nature.

MEEK: Absolutely. I look forward to coming back.

BLITZER: We had Marco Rubio on the show yesterday. We have also invited Charlie Crist to come on as well. We hope to have him as well, and then maybe one of these days, all three of you will come on together, we do a nice little debate on the issues facing the voters of Florida.

MEEK: Sounds great.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming on.

MEEK: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kendrick Meek wants to be the United States senator from Florida.

The firestorm surrounding the firing of USDA worker Shirley Sherrod, how did the White House initially respond? Our own John King has a behind the scenes look, he's coming up next.

And the new Wall Street reform bill is cracking down on a problem that has nothing to do with U.S. banks. They're tackling mineral sales that are fueling violence in Congo right now. Stay with us, we have details in "The Situation Room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's not just the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologizing to Shirley Sherrod, the White House press secretary also apologized. Let's talk about what's going on in the White House with CNN's John King. He's the host of "John King USA" that comes up at the top of the hour. I guess the key question is why didn't -- before they came to a conclusion to dump this woman, why didn't they more thoroughly investigate?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Wolf, that is the fundamental question, and it has added volume to it in this town right now because keep what the White House could see and you could see Secretary Vilsack implying that hypersensitivity about the issue of race contributed to the idea that they had to deal with this quickly, before they knew all the facts.

And so here you have Mrs. Sherrod put the question best today, she said what will her grandchildren think when they find out the first African-American woman to hold the job she holds was forced to resign by the first African-American president on an issue of race. Why did the White House takes what was posted on a conservative blog as fact? A conservative blogger said she had engaged in racist conduct. Secretary Vilsack's people sent over an alert to the White House on Monday saying we're investigating this, we think we might have a problem here.

What was the feedback from the White House? We don't know that because they won't tell us. Then when they found out Secretary Vilsack wanted to force her to resign, we know the White House supported that decision. We know the president supported that decision initially. But was there any feedback? Now Secretary Vilsack says it was his and his alone, but that does not mean there were not conversations by his deputies back and forth with the White House. We know it came up at the White House staff meeting Tuesday morning, the deputy chief of staff Jim Messina said this was a textbook example of how you deal with a problem and deal with it quickly.

At that point, they thought they had done the right thing and so then they changed the mind. This is a White House, Wolf, remember, promised to be transparent. Personnel matters are sensitive, but we don't know the tick tock, the back and forth, who handled it at the White House, what was said back and those are big questions at a time this is a clear embarrassment to the White House.

BLITZER: I think in the coming days we will know the answers to these questions and then we will move on, but I know that the White House is so frustrated, a big day like today, the president signs financial regulations into law, and everybody is not paying attention to that, they're paying attention to this. You're going to have a lot more on this coming up.

KING: We're going to spend a lot of time trying to answer those questions and the ones we can't answer, we'll at least lay them out there.

BLITZER: "John King USA" at the top of the hour. Thanks very much.

Five million, yes five million people killed in a brutal war and some say gadgets like cell phones and laptops are fueling the violence. Now lawmakers here in the United States are taking action in an unexpected way.

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BLITZER: Here is something you probably didn't know, the new financial reform law tackles a problem that has nothing to do with bank practices here in the United States, but is linked to big time profits. A provision cracks down on the use of minerals from Congo that could be supporting that country's deadly civil war. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow, she is working the story for us. Mary, what is going on here? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a provision tucked deep inside of the bill. I have it here. It's on page 2,279 and it brings attention to the link between electronic devices we use everyday and the Congo, which has the highest rate of sexual violence in the world and where it's estimated that 45,000 people die every month.

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UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Hi, I'm a Mac.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm a PC.

SNOW (voice-over): In this mock ad, the activist group enough exposes what it calls a dirty little secret about everyday devices from laptops to cell phones that contain materials from the Congo, recently called the rape capital of the world by a United Nations official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of this stuff comes all of the way from the Congo, where it has been fueling the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II, five million killed in the past 10 years.

SNOW: The group behind that message successfully fought to get a provision included in the financial reform bill signed by President Obama. It aims to cut off money to militias involved in the civil war. Those militias illegally seize minerals, sell them and go on to make millions, further fueling violence in the region.

The new rules require transparency. If companies are using materials from the Congo, they must disclose their due diligence, ensuring that they are not using conflict minerals.

JOHN PRENDERGAST, THE ENOUGH PROJECT: What this bill has done is basically taken a first step to addressing where these companies get their raw materials, and ensuring that the raw materials don't cause terrible conflict in far away places for our convenience.

SNOW: A big supporter, Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. He voted against the financial reform bill, but he was responsible for attaching the amendment saying he hopes it "will bring accountability and transparency to the supply chain of minerals used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices."

A trade group for big tech companies applauds the effort, hoping it will provide leverage in the difficult job of sorting out what's legitimate and what's not, saying tech companies don't want to leave the area.

RICK GOSS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY COUNCIL: Mining is a subsistence level of support for thousands of people in the Congo. And if industry were to pull out altogether, there would be thousands of people who would be left with no source of income here.

SNOW: But the new rules don't have the teeth to enforce penalties. PRENDERGAST: No penalties yet. We couldn't win that battle. That will be the next one. But what it does is it basically -- it's full disclosure, so that consumers can make their own decisions.

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SNOW: Tracking the supply chains of these minerals is difficult because of the several steps in the chain, and that includes the mineral refining process that's done in Asia. Now one thing that has been done to help companies, the State Department and the U.N. have drawn up maps where the minerals are located, along with who controls those mines. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting story with lots of ramifications. Mary, thanks very much. Here's a question, do you think Social Security will be there for you? Jack Cafferty coming up with your e-mail.

And a small sailboat gets slammed by a very large whale. We're going to show you what happened after this most unusual collision. Stay with us, you're in "The Situation Room."

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BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: The question is, do you think Social Security's going to be there for you? A new poll, 60 percent of Americans don't think so.

Cy in Virginia writes, "I'm 55. I think there will be some money for me in eight or 11 years. What I'm really depressed about is the reality that I and many more Americans will probably need to work until we die even with Social Security and hardly anybody wants to hire old people. We're more expensive to insure and younger managers sometimes feel threatened by people who are more experienced and just possibly smarter than they are."

Beverly in New York writes, "Sadly, I don't believe Social Security will be around when I retire, no matter what the annual report I get says. I'm maxing out my 401K, contributing annually to my IRA and saving like a miser to ensure my retirement. I was born on the wrong end of the baby boom, 1963. I've already seen the retirement age for me go from 65 to 67. And it will probably go to 70 if the government doesn't get its act together."

Russ in Minnesota writes, "I'm 32. I've paid into Social Security for 17 years already now. And I'm planning to never see a dime back. No politicians interested in fixing a problem for folks 30 years from now. What do they care? They won't be up for re-election in 2040 most likely."

Becky in Indiana writes, "By the time I reach my retirement age of 69 in seven months, I'm sure there won't be any Social Security left for me and my husband, nor will we have any retirement at all because we have to live off our retirement while both being unemployed for 18 months out of the last 2.5 years. So now we'll become a burden to our children or work until my last breath."

Ron writes, also from Indiana, "Bad news, Jack, the elite have stolen the gold from Ft. Knox, taken every dime from Social Security, stripped the equity from our homes and now they're coming after our retirement funds. I'm 44. I'll have to work till I'm 102 just so I won't starve to death."

And Ryan in Texas writes, "I hope so but the fact is we have to plan like it won't be there because hope doesn't pay the bills."

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. We'll do it again tomorrow. Thanks very much.

All right, this just coming in to "The Situation Room." I want to briefly update you on what we're learning. The Justice Department has now decided not to charge the former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the controversial firings of those nine U.S. attorneys. Prosecutors say a 22-month investigation found insufficient evidence that the firings were politically motivated. The controversy, as you will recall, forced Alberto Gonzales to resign as the United States attorney general. His lawyer now says the findings are a vindication. They are long, long overdue. Good news for Alberto Gonzales, no charges against him.

Two sailors in South Africa got the shock of their lives when a huge whale suddenly soared out of the water and landed right on their small boat. CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on this most unusual encounter.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine you're out with your boyfriend for a sail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next thing I hear him say, oh, (BLEEP).

MOOS: When a whale about the size of your boat springs out of the ocean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This massive creature just going up next to the boat and smashing against the mast.

MOOS: This is the before and this was the after, sailing school partners Paloma Warner (ph) and Ralph Mothis (ph) both lived to joke about the encounter, just outside Capetown Bay in South Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We said we had a whale of a time.

MOOS: Even if it will cost at least 5,000 bucks to fix their 32- foot boat, the whale seemed fine afterwards, though he left some blubber on deck. Were you thinking "Jaws"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not at all. I wasn't scared at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to need a bigger boat.

MOOS: All Paloma and Ralph need is a repaired mast. The photo of the counter was shot by a tourist in a nearby boat. They'd all been watching the whale repeatedly surfacing when suddenly it crashed the yacht. Now it's one thing if a flying carp flies into your boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my --

MOOS: Or flies directly into you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!

MOOS: We've even seen killer whales force a penguin to jump on a boat to escape. But when it comes to the most persistent boat crasher, take a gander at this goose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my dog! Crazy goose, sucker won't leave her alone. Will you stop? Damn it, get. This sucker's crazy. Look at that crazy sucker.

MOOS: At least the whale didn't chase the sailboat. Actually, environmental officials are checking reports perhaps the sailboat was harassing the whale by being too close. Paloma says that just isn't so. They were sailing without a motor. The whale didn't hear them and simply surfaced. If he'd landed on the deck, rather than smacking the mast --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would have been -- we would have been as flat as a pancake.

MOOS: Estimated weight of a right whale, 40 tons. All fins on deck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was amazing.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was actually awesome.

MOOS: New York.

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BLITZER: Not only a most unusual story, that's a whale of a story. Thanks Jeanne for that.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here in "The Situation Room." I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN, at WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word. You can also follow "The Situation Room" on Facebook, go to Facebook.com/CNNSituationRoom to become a fan. Thanks very much for watching, I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." "John King USA" starts right now.