President Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove, pushed Vice President Dick Cheney to speak publicly about shooting a fellow hunter, sources tell CBS News.
Rove worried the vice president's silence on the issue was becoming a political problem, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.
Cheney is in a "state of meltdown" over shooting his friend and the political fallout it has caused, a source close to the Cheney has told CBS News. On Wednesday, he accepted full blame for the incident and defended the decision to not publicly disclose the accident until the following day.
Cheney described when he shot 78-year-old Harry Whittington as "one of the worst days of my life."
"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry," Cheney told Fox News Channel in his first public comments since the shooting Saturday in south Texas.
CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports another source within the White House said "you can imagine how upset the vice president is," adding that the Whittington family is worried about Cheney.
Cheney described seeing Whittington fall to the ground after he pulled the trigger while aiming at a covey of quail.
"The image of him falling is something I'll never ever be able to get out of my mind," Cheney said. "I fired, and there's Harry falling. It was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life at that moment."
Check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's report on Cheney shooting Whittington (.pdf).
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Cheney has been under intense political pressure to speak out about the shooting incident, which has become a public relations embarrassment and potential political liability for the White House. Until Wednesday, Cheney had refused to comment on why he withheld information about the shooting, which prolonged the controversy and made him the butt of jokes.
But Borger reports it the incident has not hurt the president's relationship with Cheney, and a source told her the two are still close.
Cheney was soft-spoken and somber during the interview with Fox's Brit Hume.
"You can talk about all of the other conditions that exist at the time but that's the bottom line and — it was not Harry's fault," he said. "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."
Cheney said he had had a beer at lunch that day, but nobody was drinking when they went back out to hunt several hours later.
Texas officials said the shooting was an accident, and no charges have been brought against the vice president.
A report that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department issued Monday said Whittington was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of the hunting line he was sharing with Cheney.
"Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.
"I ran over to him," Cheney said. "He was laying there on his back, obviously, bleeding. You could see where the shot struck him."
He said he has no idea if he hit a bird because he was focused on Whittington.
"I said, `Harry, I had no idea you were there.' He didn't respond," Cheney said.
Whittington was reported doing well at a Texas hospital Wednesday, a day after doctors said that a pellet entered his heart and he had what they called "a mild heart attack."
Hospital officials said the Texan, though still listed in intensive care, had a normal heart rhythm again Wednesday afternoon and was sitting up in a chair, eating and planning to do some legal work in his room.
Cheney has been roundly criticized for failing to tell the public about the accident until the next day. He said he thought it made sense to let the owner of the ranch where it happened reveal the accident on the local newspaper's Web site Sunday morning.
"I thought that was the right call," Cheney said. "I still do."
Cheney said he agreed that ranch owner Katharine Armstrong should make the story public, because she was an eyewitness, because she grew up on the ranch and because she is "an acknowledged expert in all of this" as a past head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He also agreed with her decision to choose the local newspaper as the way to get the news out.
"I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site, which is the way it went out and I thought that was the right call," Cheney said.
"What do you think now?" he was asked.
"I still do," Cheney responded. "The accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me."
Armstrong told reporters that Whittington made a mistake by not announcing himself as he returned to the hunting line after breaking off to retrieve a downed bird. But Cheney, an avid and longtime hunter, said Whittington was not to blame.
Through hospital officials, Whittington has declined to comment.
"He still kind of wonders what all the hoopla is about," said Peter Banko, administrator of Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial.
Cheney was using No. 7½ shot from a 28-gauge shotgun. Shotgun pellets typically are made of steel or lead; the pellets in No. 7½ shot are just under one-tenth of an inch in diameter.
The pellet that traveled to Whittington's heart was either touching or embedded in the heart muscle near the top chambers, called the atria, officials said.