| From Capitol Hill Blue|
Vice President Dick Cheney's half-hearted public acknowledgment of responsibility for shooting a friend in a hunting "accident" last Saturday highlights a growing rift between President George W. Bush and the man many believe actually runs the government of the United States.
Cheney's hastily-arranged interview with the Bush-friendly Fox News Channel came only after an angry President Bush ordered his recalcitrant Vice President to try and undo the damage of four days of silence on the shooting that left 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Worthington hospitalized in intensive care after one of the shotgun pellets reached his heart.
"It's rare to see the President tell Dick Cheney to do anything," said a White House source Wednesday. "This time the order came down: Go public and take responsibility."
Bush's mandate came after four days of intensive White House infighting over what to do about Cheney amid mounting pressure from Republican leaders in Congress who told Bush the Vice President's silence was hurting a party that already faces an uphill battle with voters in the upcoming November mid-term elections.
But Cheney's taped appearance with softball interviewer Brit Hume did little to ease the tension. While the Vice President admitted responsibility for the shooting he also continued to claim the decision to withhold information from the public and press for some 18 hours was the right thing to do.
"We really didn't know until Sunday morning that Harry was probably going to be OK, that it looked like there hadn't been any serious damage to any vital organ," Cheney said. "And that's when we began the process of notifying the press."
What did Cheney plan to do if Whittington died? Hide the fact that he killed someone? Find a scapegoat to take responsibility for the shooting?
Cheney also admits he waited until the next day to tell the White House and didn't discuss it with Bush until two days later.
When word of the shooting finally reached the White House, communications specialist Dan Bartlett told the Veep he needed to go public quickly and admit what happened.
Cheney refused. He claimed the story was too complicated to tell the press until he and his team got all their ducks (or in this case quail) in a row.
"I've been in the business for a long time and never seen a situation quite like this," Cheney said. "We've had experiences where the president has been shot. We've never had a situation where the vice president shot somebody."
Actually, that's not true. Aaron Burr was vice president when he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804 but Cheney has never let facts get in the way of his revisionist history.
Instead, turned to Katherine Armstrong, owner of the ranch, and told her to call a friend at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and give him the story.
"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.
Even though the timing is still suspect, Cheney refuses to admit he was wrong.
"The accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me," he said.
There may have been other reasons. He admits having "a beer" for lunch but other sources say the Vice President had more than one can of brew that day before picking up a shotgun to shoot quail and lawyers. But we don't know how drunk he may or may not have been because the always-accommodating Kennedy County, Texas, sheriff's department waited until the next day to do go the ranch and investigate the shooting. That gives anyone time to sober up.
County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III was barbecuing in his back yard with his family at 5:30 p.m. Saturday when sheriff's Capt. Charles Kirk called to report "a possible hunting accident at Armstrong Ranch."
A few minutes later, a Secret Service agent called.
"He said the reason he was calling was to officially notify the sheriff's department that the vice president was involved in that shooting accident," Salinas said.
Kirk went to the Armstrong Ranch gate but was not allowed on the property. He called Salinas to report he was there with a U.S. Border Patrol agent who didn't know what was going on.
"I told him don't worry about it. I'll make a call," Salinas said. He called another deputy who moonlights at the Armstrong ranch, said he was told it was "just an accident" and made the decision to wait until Sunday to investigate.
"We've known these people for years. They are honest and wouldn't call us, telling us a lie," Salinas said.
In Washington, they call it politics. In South Texas, it's just the "old boy" network. Either way it means justice takes a back seat to favoritism.
And, as usual, the public's right to know what's happening in our government suffers. The White House added to the damage by trying to blame the accident on the victim. Cheney, however, sees nothing wrong with hiding facts from the press.
"I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them -- they didn't like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times," he said. "But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is, especially for covering a major story in south Texas."
At least Cheney finally admitted that a vice president gunning down a lawyer while hunting was a "major story" but his refusal to acknowledge that he screwed the pooch by stonewalling and hiding out until the alcohol left his bloodstream and everybody got their story straight is where the real problem lies. With the Bush administration, the word "lie" always seems to come into play.
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