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
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
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.