Cheney Cited For Breaking Hunting Law

The firestorm was continuing over Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting companion. The White House was playing down the incident, even but questions persist about the delay in releasing information about the shooting to the public.

Cheney has been given a warning citation for breaking Texas hunting law. He and the man he shot apparently failed to buy a $7 stamp allowing them to shoot upland game birds.

The warning came from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department after it investigated Cheney's accidental shooting Saturday of a fellow quail hunter on the private Armstrong Ranch in the south part of the state.

The department found the accident was caused by a "hunter's judgment factor" when Cheney sprayed another hunter, prominent Republican attorney Harry Whittington, while aiming at flying birds.

Cheney, an experienced hunter, has not commented publicly about the accident. His office said Monday night in a statement that Cheney had a $125 nonresident hunting license and has sent a $7 check to cover the cost of the stamp. "The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not informed of the $7 upland game bird stamp requirement," the statement said.

Whittington also received a warning for failing to have the stamp. A department spokesman said warnings are being issued in most cases because the stamp requirement only went into effect five months ago and many hunters aren't aware of it.

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

Whittington was in stable condition at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial and was moved from intensive care to a "step-down unit" Monday. Doctors decided to leave several birdshot pellets lodged in his skin rather than try to remove them.

The White House was bombarded with questions Monday about why it took nearly 24 hours to even acknowledge the shooting.

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

Spokesman Scott McClellan said the vice president's staff was focused on making sure that Whittington was receiving adequate medical care.


"What's important, when it happened, was to make sure that medical care was getting to Mr. Whittington. That's where all the attention was focused, and making sure he was getting to the hospital," said McClellan.

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, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, but instead, on the ground in Texas by the vice president.

The White House did not inform the national media of the accident. That was left to ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, who told a local newspaper about the incident nearly 24 hours after the shooting.

Asked if it was appropriate for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate information that the vice president of the United States has shot someone, McClellan said: "That's one way to provide information to the public. The vice president's office worked with her. I should say the vice president spoke with her directly and agreed that she should make it public."

Meanwhile, the late-night talk shows had a field day with the entire affair.

"Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It's Dick Cheney," said David Letterman on CBS' The Late Show.

And Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" had some advice for parents: "Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted — it's just not worth it."

The county sheriff says an investigation is underway, but it's considered so routine that the local sheriff didn't send his deputies to interview the vice president until the following morning, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

"Everyone knew it was an accident and nothing criminal," said Sheriff Ramon Salinas.

The accident raised questions about Cheney's adherence to hunting safety practices. While some hunting experts said Whittington should have made his presence known, Cheney apparently broke the number one rule of hunting: always know what you're firing at.

"We always stress to anybody that before you make any kind of a shot, it's incumbent upon the shooter to assess the situation and make sure it's a safe shot," said Mark Birkhauser, president-elect of the International Hunter Education Association and hunter education coordinator in New Mexico.

"Once you squeeze that trigger, you can't bring that shot back."