and the administration's fumbles in getting out the word underscore the secrecy and near independence under which the vice president has operated, and it sent the White House scrambling Tuesday to find the right tone when the victim's condition took a turn for the worse.
After first defensively fielding questions on why disclosure of the Saturday shooting was delayed until the next day, Press Secretary Scott McClellan joked about the situation with reporters at his morning briefing. Later, he turned somber after doctors in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the lawyer and political contributor shot by Cheney — 78-year-old Henry Whittington — had suffered a minor heart attack after birdshot from Cheney's blast migrated to his heart.
"If you want to continue to spend time on that, that's fine," McClellan told reporters pressing him on the shooting incident. "We're moving on to the priorities of the American people. That's where our focus is."
Check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's report on Cheney shooting Whittington (.pdf).
Read and comment about coverage of this story in Public Eye.
Cheney, an experienced hunter, has not spoken publicly about the accident, which took place Saturday night while the vice president was aiming for a quail. Critics of the Bush administration called for more answers from Cheney himself.
The furor over the accident and the White House's delay in making it public are "part of the secretive nature of this administration," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "I think it's time the American people heard from the vice president."
A source close to the administration told CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger that people within the White House are livid and that signals are being sent to the vice president's office that the issue has been handled poorly.
The shooting presents a new problem for the White House as it seeks to repair damaged credibility in a midterm election year in which continued Republican control of Congress hangs in the balance.