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White House Deferred to Cheney on Shooting

Vice President Cheney arrives at the White House to attend a security briefing. Cheney did not comment on his accidental shooting of a friend.
Vice President Cheney arrives at the White House to attend a security briefing. Cheney did not comment on his accidental shooting of a friend. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)

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The White House typically releases information immediately on incidents involving the president's personal life, such as bike-riding accidents, to avoid the appearance of covering up embarrassments. It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for the White House to allow a private citizen serve as its de facto spokesman.

But current and former aides said the White House rarely imposes its practices, especially on press matters, on Cheney. The vice president's office often operates autonomously in a manner that many top White House officials are reluctant to challenge.

In this case, Cheney worked with family members and former aide Mary Matalin on how to handle the fallout of the shooting accident, said a person close to the vice president who demanded anonymity to talk about internal discussions.

Armstrong contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times around 9 a.m. Central time on Sunday. Asked why the information was not disseminated on Saturday night, immediately after the accident, Armstrong said: "The last thing that was on our mind was the media. We were thinking about Harry."

Armstrong; her sister; Cheney; Whittington; and Pamela Pitzer Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, went out on the ranch to hunt quail. Armstrong said the protocol they used was to have three hunters shooting at one time: While two sat in the hunt vehicle, the other three were hunting. They would then rotate.

The hunters, wearing bright-orange vests and caps, walked in a line across a pasture. From what Armstrong said she saw as she sat in the hunt vehicle about 100 yards from Cheney and the other hunters, Whittington walked back, away from the line, to look for a bird that he had shot but that a dog did not find.

He then walked forward toward Cheney, approaching from behind and to the right of him and the other hunter when the vice president shot at a quail and hit the lawyer.

The manager of a ranch in neighboring Brooks County attended a quail lunch at the Armstrong Ranch headquarters midday Sunday with Cheney. Lavoyger Durham, manager of El Tule Ranch, said the luncheon talk was of "North Korea, India, China, Taiwan."

There was no discussion about the accident the night before, he said, but it became known at the luncheon that Cheney asked to have the morning hunt canceled. "He didn't want to shoot," Durham said.

Moreno reported from Sarita, Tex.

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