Shoots, Hides and Leaves

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
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.' "

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