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Shoots, Hides and Leaves

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, February 13, 2006; 11:45 AM

Why isn't Dick Cheney on TV right now?

The vice president of the United States shoots someone in a hunting accident and rather than immediately come clean to the public, his office keeps it a secret for almost a whole day. Even then, it's only to confirm a report in a local paper.

And still from the White House, no details, no apologies, and no Cheney.

No one is suggesting that Cheney shot his hunting buddy on purpose. But could he have been negligent? What does he say happened exactly? What do the others there -- not just their hostess -- say took place? Shouldn't there be some sort of investigation? Does Cheney take any responsibility? And just when was he planning on letting the press know?

Shailagh Murray and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney accidentally sprayed a companion with birdshot while hunting quail on a private Texas ranch, injuring the man in the face, neck and chest, the vice president's office confirmed yesterday after a Texas newspaper reported the incident.

"The shooting occurred late Saturday afternoon while Cheney was hunting with Harry Whittington, 78, a prominent Austin lawyer, on the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas. Hearing a covey of birds, Cheney shot at one, not realizing that Whittington had startled the quail and that he was in the line of fire."

Officially, Cheney isn't saying sorry: " 'The vice president visited Harry Whittington at the hospital and was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits,' Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said yesterday. Cheney returned to Washington last night."

Unofficially, maybe a little: " 'The vice president was concerned,' said Mary Matalin, a Cheney adviser who spoke with him yesterday morning. 'He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do.' "

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the New York Times: "White House officials did not release details of the accident. But Katharine Armstrong, who was with the hunting party at the time of the shooting, said that Mr. Cheney, 65, fired his shotgun without realizing that Mr. Whittington had approached the group, hitting him on his right side, on his cheek, neck and chest. . . .

" 'This all happened pretty quickly,' Ms. Armstrong said in a telephone interview from her ranch. Mr. Whittington, she said, 'did not announce -- which would be protocol -- 'Hey, it's me, I'm coming up,' ' she said. . . .

"Asked why the vice president's office had made no announcement about the accident, [Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride] said, 'We deferred to the Armstrongs regarding what had taken place at their ranch.' "

And how's this for a quick investigation? " 'It was accidental, a hunting accident,' Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County said from his office in Sarita, Tex., adding that the Secret Service notified him Saturday of the episode. 'They did what they had to according to law.' "

At 50,000 acres, the Armstrong ranch is one of the largest private properties in Texas, and its owners are long-time Republican benefactors.

Michael Kranish grasps the two-pronged nature of the story in the Boston Globe: "Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner Saturday in Texas, and the White House did not confirm the shooting until nearly 20 hours later."

Lynn Brezosky reports for the Associated Press: "Armstrong said everyone at the ranch was so 'focused' on Whittington's health Saturday that it wasn't until Sunday she called the Caller-Times to report the accident. . . .

"Whittington sent word through a hospital official that he would have no comment on the incident out of respect for Cheney."

Frank James asks in the Chicago Tribune Washington bureau's new blog: "How is it that Vice President Cheney can shoot a man, albeit accidentally, on Saturday during a hunting trip and the American public not be informed of it until today? . . .

"When a vice president of the U.S. shoots a man under any circumstance, that is extremely relevant information. What might be the excuse to justify not immediately making the incident public?"

Greg Mitchell writes in Editor and Publisher that "it is not known for certain that Cheney's office, the White House, or anyone else intended to announce the shooting" had it not been for a call from the local paper.

Good Morning America

ABC's Good Morning America devoted a long segment to the story this morning.

Charlie Gibson: "We're going to go next to the growing political fallout from all this. Why didn't the White House tell everyone when this accident happened? Why did they wait so long? And did that make a bad situation even worse? ABC's White House correspondent Jessica Yellin joining us from the White House."

Yellin: "Good morning, Charlie. It took the vice president's office nearly 24 hours to go public with news of this shooting. That delay has prompted some speculation on line and on talk radio that perhaps Mr. Cheney was hoping to cover up the incident.

"But a spokesperson with Mr. Cheney's office flatly rejects that notion, insisting that they waited to talk to the news media about the shooting because 'they deferred to the owner of the ranch, Mrs. Armstrong, about what had taken place on her property.' "

Gibson then spoke with Kathryn Garcia, the reporter for the Corpus Christie Caller-Times who first broke the story .

Gibson: "So you're just in on a Sunday and the phone rings, right?"

Garcia: "Yeah. Actually that's kind of how it worked. I was incredibly surprised. I got a phone call from Katharine Armstrong. . . . She was explaining to me what happened, giving me the details, and she kept saying the vice president did this, the vice president did that, we were all hunting. And at the end -- I mean, it's a Sunday morning, it's supposed to be slow at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times -- and . . . I said, are we talking about Vice President Cheney? And she laughed a little bit and said yes, absolutely. And I thought, oh, my God, you're going to have to repeat that story one more time."

Gibson: "She told you, I know, that Mr. Whittington didn't follow protocol, and came up from behind the vice president and didn't sort of announce that he was there, having gone off to fetch a quail. But we've talked to hunters who say there's no protocol like that and the real problem is the shooter has to be aware of where anybody in his hunting party may be. Do you know anything about hunting protocol?"

Garcia: "I don't know that much, I'm not a hunter myself, but I do know a little bit, and I do know you're supposed to look before shooting."

Garcia also described calling the White House.

"I . . . got the switchboard . . . I said, you know, I'm going to need to talk to some sort of public relations office. . . . She said, no, unfortunately it's going to be open on Monday morning. And I said, no, that's not going to work and I tried to be as absolutely dramatic as possible to get the most attention and I said: Vice President Cheney has apparently shot someone accidentally and I need to speak with someone and I need a statement. She got somebody straight away for me. It was very interesting."

Spin Watch

Mike Allen writes for Time.com: "The Vice President flew down to Texas on Friday after working at the White House, his office said. He remained there Sunday but did not hunt, his office said, before flying back to Washington on Sunday night. He is scheduled to join Bush on Monday afternoon when he takes questions from reporters in the Oval Office, following a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. White House aides can be expected to say that the Vice President did not shoot Whittington, which suggests a bullet, but rather sprayed him with birdshot, a type of ammunition made up of tiny pieces of lead or steel."


Susan Page writes in USA Today that "there are few shootings on record by presidents or vice presidents. Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. In some ways, Cheney's accident is more reminiscent of occasions when President Ford drove golf balls into a crowd, beaning bystanders."

Murray and Baker write: "Two years ago, he was criticized for going duck hunting with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia soon after the court had agreed to hear Cheney's appeal in an lawsuit related to his energy task force. A month earlier, he had bagged about 70 stocked pheasants at a private shooting club in Pennsylvania."

Blog Watch

Joel Achenbach writes in his washingtonpost.com blog: "I find the story reassuring. Cheney is a man who doesn't just talk the talk. No, if he's going to send American soldiers into harm's way, where they might be shot at any moment by a deranged fanatic, he's also going to do the same thing to his close personal friends. He's giving his hunting buddies a taste of life in the Cheney Era, when you count yourself lucky just to get out alive."

Blogger Josh Marshall is asking lots of pointed questions.

Oliver Willis asks: "Do you think that if Al Gore had shot someone that the media wouldn't hear/report it for 24 hours?"

Michelle Malkin writes: "Unfortunately, this is very bad news for the White House--and not just because of the inevitable late-night jokes that will inundate the airwaves over the next week. The Dems will exploit this accident to smear Cheney as incapable of being trusted, weak of mind, etc. The resignation rumors will fly again. And the biography of a man who has served this country so well and so honorably for so many years will be overshadowed by a single, ill-fated hunting mishap."

Cheney and Wiretapping

Michael Isikoff, Mark Hosenball and Evan Thomas write in Newsweek: "It is not yet clear how the public feels about warrantless wiretapping. . . . But there is no question that the solons of Capitol Hill--and, increasingly, those in the Republican Party--are growing restless and ready to challenge the authority of the Bush White House.

"In part, congressional egos and prerogatives are on the line. Members of both parties feel bullied by the sometimes high-handed treatment they get from the Bush administration, particularly from Vice President Dick Cheney, the outspoken avatar of executive power. . . .

"Cheney's attitude seems to be: bring it on."

Cheney and Plame

Anne Marie Squeo and John D. McKinnon write in the Wall Street Journal: "The disclosure that Vice President Dick Cheney may have authorized his former chief of staff to release classified information to justify the war in Iraq has political consequences for the White House, but the legal fallout may be muted."

The Associated Press reports: "Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald should investigate Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the CIA leak probe if they authorized an aide to give secret information to reporters, Democratic and Republican senators said Sunday."

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, said Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney would need to resign if he had ordered a leak that resulted in the public exposure of an undercover C.I.A. officer."

Bush's Open Mike

The Associated Press reports: "The eavesdropping tables were turned on President Bush on Friday. The president apparently believed he was speaking privately when he talked about listening in without a warrant on domestic communications with suspected al-Qaida terrorists overseas. But reporters were the ones doing the listening in this time.

"The incident happened at a House Republican retreat. After six minutes of public remarks by the president, reporters were ushered out. 'I support the free press, let's just get them out of the room,' Bush said, intending to speak behind closed doors with fellow Republicans and take lawmakers' questions.

"When reporters left, Bush spoke about the National Security Agency program that he authorized four years ago and which has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike."

The most amazing thing about what Bush said is that even speaking in confidence to fellow Republicans, he cleaved to exactly the same unrevealing talking points that he uses in public.

Here, from the pool report, is a transcript of the inadvertently recorded remarks:

"I want to share some thoughts with you before I answer your questions. . . . First of all, I expect this conversation we're about to have to stay in the room. I know that's impossible in Washington.

"You've got to understand something about me. September the 11th changed the way I think. I told the people exactly what I felt at the time, and I still feel it, and that is, we must do everything in our power to protect the country.

"I wake up every morning thinking about a future attack, and therefore, a lot of my thinking, and a lot of the decisions I make are based upon the attack that hurt us.

"So one of the things I like to do, is I like to ask the team around me -- I got a good team. If any of you are ever president, make sure you surround yourself with smart, capable people -- people smarter than you in my case, it wasn't all that hard to find.

"I talked to the people whose job it is to protect the American people, and I said, 'Are we doing everything we can to protect the people?'

"It's a question you want somebody to ask, isn't it? Somebody responsible for doing the job, of providing security for the country. You'd want somebody in my position to call in the people that have got key responsibilities, such as Mike Hayden at NSA.

"And I said Mike, are we doing everything we can to protect the people and if not, come up with a program so I can say to the people we're doing our job.

"The next question I asked, was is it legal? I didn't ask that to Hayden. I asked that to the lawyers. I asked the White House lawyers, and I asked it to the Justice Department lawyers.

"See like you, I take my oath of office seriously. I swear to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. And so we had the program analyzed legally.

"But I recognized that wasn't going to be enough. And so we put constant checks on the program . . . (feed cut)."

Steve Benen writes in the Carpetbagger blog: "Bush has struggled to explain why he has the authority to circumvent the law and conduct domestic warrantless searches, so when reporters were ushered out of the room, only to discover that they could hear Bush give Republican lawmakers his personal take on the controversy, reporters' hearts probably skipped a beat. Finally, they thought, an unvarnished, no-spin take on what the president says behind closed doors when he thinks he's just among like-minded friends.

"But guess what -- that Bush is the same Bush we see all the time. He has his talking points, which he'll repeat no matter who's in the audience, and precious little else to say.

"The amiable-dunce act, unfortunately, is genuine."

Abramoff Photos Unveiled

Philip Shenon and Lowell Bergman write in the New York Times: "After weeks in which the White House has declined to release pictures of President Bush with Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist, the first photograph to be published of the two men shows a small, partly obscured image of Mr. Abramoff looking on from the background as Mr. Bush greets a Texas Indian chief in May 2001."

Adam Zagorin and Matthew Cooper write in Time: "Told about the photograph in January, the White House said it had no record that Abramoff was present at the meeting. Shown the photograph today, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the White House had still found no record of Abramoff's presence but confirmed that it is Abramoff in the picture."

Katrina Watch

Dana Milbank writes in Slate: "The White House is following a strategy of pre-emption in anticipation of a Wednesday House report on Hurricane Katrina that is likely to portray the administration in an unflattering light. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend will speak at the National Emergency Management Association's midyear conference and are expected to unveil some of the conclusions of the White House's own internal report on its Katrina response.

"But it will be difficult for the White House to get in front of this tidal surge."

Spencer S. Hsu writes in The Washington Post: "Hurricane Katrina exposed the U.S. government's failure to learn the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as leaders from President Bush down disregarded ample warnings of the threat to New Orleans and did not execute emergency plans or share information that would have saved lives, according to a blistering report by House investigators. . . .

"The 600-plus-page report lays primary fault with the passive reaction and misjudgments of top Bush aides, singling out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center and the White House Homeland Security Council, according to a 60-page summary of the document obtained by The Washington Post. Regarding Bush, the report found that 'earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response' because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance."

On the rebuilding front, Evan Thomas and Holly Bailey write in Newsweek: "A whiter New Orleans could mean a more Republican state.

"White House officials have said they see no merit in re-creating failing schools and flawed public housing in New Orleans. Still, they reject conspiracy theories about racial engineering. ('Just absurd,' says one White House aide.) Bush's advisers acknowledge, however, that the administration has felt little political pressure from voters nationwide to spend more money to rebuild New Orleans."

British Story Crosses the Pond

John Daniszewski writes in the Los Angeles Times: "It was the end of January 2003. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was five days away from giving a critical speech at the U.N. Security Council, laying out the case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and posed a danger to world peace.

"But huddled with aides at the White House, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were not sure there was enough evidence to convince the Security Council. . . .

"Bush proposed an alternative: paint a U.S. spy plane in United Nations colors and see if that didn't tempt Hussein's forces to shoot at it. In any case, he said, the war was 'penciled in' for March 10 and the United States would go ahead with or without a second U.N. resolution. . . .

"That is the gist of an account of the Jan. 31, 2003, meeting contained in the new edition of 'Lawless World,' a book by British author Philippe Sands."

Radioactive Man

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "What happens if you're a Republican commentator and you write a book critical of President Bush that gets you fired from your job at a conservative think tank? . . .

" 'Nobody will touch me,' said Bruce Bartlett, author of the forthcoming 'Impostor: Why George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.' 'I think I'm just kind of radioactive at the moment.' "

Whitehouse.com Watch

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "Dan Parisi , president of Whitehouse.com , the former porn site that became a financial services site, writes to say he's taking the site in a new direction. . . .

"It seems that people visiting the site 'only care about porn,' Parisi said, 'and I do not want to do porn again.'

" 'So we are going with [a] political site,' he said, with blogs, cartoon contests and such."

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