Questions Persist Over Cheney Shooting

Vice President Dick Cheney arrives at the White House, Monday, Feb. 13, 2006, to attend morning security briefing with President Bush. Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, spraying the fellow hunter in the face and chest with shotgun pellets. AP

President Bush knew Saturday evening that Vice President Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a hunting companion, but the information wasn't made public until the next day — by a private citizen — the White House said Monday.

Spokesman Scott McClellan said the vice president's staff was focused on making sure that the shooting victim, attorney Harry Whittington of Austin, Texas, was receiving adequate medical care after the shooting on the private Armstrong Ranch in south Texas. Whittington and Cheney were hunting quail together.

Cheney apparently did not see Whittington, and the vice president accidentally hit him in the face, neck and chest with bird shot.

Bush aide Karl Rove told the president just before 8 p.m. Saturday about Cheney's involvement in the shotgun accident, McClellan said, adding up to two and a half hours that no one told Mr. Bush the vice president had shot someone, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

McClellan was informed Saturday night that someone in the Cheney hunting party was involved, but he didn't know that Cheney was the shooter until the next morning, the spokesman said.

McClellan said when he learned, around 6 a.m. Sunday, he urged the vice president's office to get the information out "as quickly as possible."

But decisions effecting who knew what, when, weren't being made at the White House by the president, Axelrod reports, but instead, on the ground in Texas by the vice president.

Meanwhile, doctors say 78-year-old Whittington is making a speedy recovery, but will likely walk out of the hospital with most of the shrapnel the vice president gave him, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan.

"To go ahead and take each BB or pellet out, sometimes the treatment is worse than the affliction," said Dr. David Blanchard. "So many times we'll just leave them be."

CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Cheney had acquired a $125 Texas non-resident season hunting license, but he lacked a $7 stamp for hunting upland game birds. His staff was not aware of the new stamp requirement. The vice president expects to receive a warning and has sent a check for the stamp.

Ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said no one discussed notifying the public of the accident Saturday because they were consumed with making sure Whittington was treated. She said the family realized in the morning that it would be a story and decided to call the local newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She said she then discussed the news coverage with Cheney for the first time.

"I said, 'Mr. Vice President, this is going to be public, and I'm comfortable going to the hometown newspaper,"' she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "And he said, 'You go ahead and do whatever you are comfortable doing."'

McClellan said: "The vice president thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to go out there and provide that information to the public, which she did. She reached out early Sunday morning to do so."

The White House did not inform the national media of the accident. The vice president's office confirmed the story after journalists called to ask about the report on the Caller-Times Web site nearly 24 hours after the shooting.

When asked if he was satisfied with how the situation was handled, McClellan said, "I think you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job." He pointed out that when Mr. Bush got into a biking accident in Scotland, accidentally knocking down a police officer with his bike and sending him to the hospital, he informed the press shortly after it happened.

Mr. Bush ignored a shouted question about the hunting accident Monday afternoon during an Oval Office appearance with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Cheney had participated in the meeting as well, but he left before reporters were brought in.
  • Gina Pace

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