Friday, February 17, 2006

More on the Cheney Incident

Los Angeles Times

President Bush on Thursday broke his public silence about the vice president's shooting of a hunting companion, declaring that Dick Cheney had delivered 'a very strong and powerful explanation' of the incident. Meanwhile in Texas, the sheriff's office looking into the shooting said it had ended its investigation and no charges would be filed.

Bush said he had no complaints with the manner in which Cheney handled the disclosure of the shooting, which came a day after Saturday's incident.

But asked whether he was "satisfied with the timing," the president said: "I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."

The shooting occurred about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, but it wasn't until about 3 p.m. Sunday that news of it was reported on the website of the local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. In an article Monday, the paper said it had received a tip about the incident Sunday morning from a member of the family that owns the Kenedy County ranch where Cheney and seven others were hunting quail.

That family member was subsequently identified as Katharine Armstrong, who described the incident to a Caller-Times reporter. Cheney's office confirmed the tip around noon on Sunday, the paper reported.

In the days following the incident, the vice president's critics said that his reluctance to speak out about what happened typified the secrecy in which he had operated within the Bush administration and showed a disdain for providing what they contended should be public information. On Wednesday, Cheney sat for a interview lasting about half an hour with Brit Hume of Fox News.

The account Cheney gave on television was largely echoed in a 2½-page report made public Thursday by the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department.

The report, dated Feb. 15, was written by Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr., who went to the Armstrong Ranch on Sunday to investigate the shooting.

Cheney's television interview, the sheriff's report and the information Armstrong gave to the local newspaper agree on what happened Saturday: At about 5:30 p.m., the vice president turned to fire his 28-gauge shotgun, a Perazzi Brescia, at a bird flushed out of the brush, but he shot hunting partner, Harry M. Whittington. The 78-year-old lawyer was struck in the face and torso from about 30 yards.

The sheriff's report includes the first account from Whittington, which was taken at the hospital. During the interview, Whittington emphasized that "there was no alcohol during the hunt" and that everyone was dressed in hunter orange. (Cheney said in his interview with Hume that he had a beer at lunch hours earlier.)

Whittington's description of the incident appears to have been interrupted as he was getting to the shooting. San Miguel said a nurse entered the room and asked the investigators to allow Whittington to rest.

Whittington "reiterated that this incident was just an accident. He was concerned this incident would bring a bad [image] to hunting in Texas."

Whittington, who experienced a mild heart attack Tuesday when a birdshot pellet migrated to his heart, is being treated at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi. Dr. David Blanchard, the hospital's director of emergency services, said Whittington might be discharged within five days.

As the sheriff's report was being made public, Lt. Juan J. Guzman said by telephone that "the investigation is closed and there will be no charges filed."

During a photo session at the end of an Oval Office meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Bush told reporters that the vice president "handled the issue just fine."

"This is a man who likes the outdoors and he likes to hunt. And he heard a bird flushed and he turned and pulled the trigger and saw his friend get wounded," Bush said.

"And it was a deeply traumatic moment for him and, obviously, it was a tragic moment for Harry Whittington. And so I thought his explanation was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."

Bush took issue with criticism that disclosure of the incident fueled perception of a secretive White House: "I think people are making the wrong conclusion about a tragic accident."

He said that the shooting had "profoundly affected" the vice president, and that when he saw Cheney in the Oval Office on Wednesday, "I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded."

Whittington has been a force in the Texas Republican Party and has served on a number of state boards. When Bush was governor, Whittington was appointed to the Texas Funeral Services Commission. "He's a fine man," Bush said Thursday. "He's been involved in our state's politics for a long period of time. And, you know, my concern is for Harry. And I know the vice president feels the same way."

The deputy's "incident report" reads much like any police report — except that the subject of the interview was the vice president of the United States and the investigator was greeted by Secret Service agents, who escorted him to Cheney.

The deputy wrote that Cheney named the people in the three-vehicle hunting party; the sun was setting, the vice president said, as took aim at a covey of birds that hunting dogs had flushed.

"There was a single bird that flew behind him and he followed the bird by line of sight in a counter-clockwise direction not realizing Harry Whittington had walked up from behind and had positioned himself approximately 30 yards to the west of him," San Miguel wrote.

"Mr. Cheney told me the reason Harry Whittington sustained the injuries to his face and upper body was that Mr. Whittington was standing on ground that was lower than the one he was standing on. Mr. Cheney told me if Mr. Whittington was on the same ground level the injuries might have been lower on Mr. Whittington's body."
This is a non-issue. Cheney accidently shoot Mr. Whittington plain and simple. There was no cover up no trying to hide it from the press. The media is really blowing this one out of proportion. I saw the Cheney interview with Hume and he looked generally upset with what had happened. Accidents happen all the time while hunting and the danger is increased with quail hunting. I mustly just hunt deer myself but I know from experience that when you come up on a covey of quail they take off fast and low which is why you hunt them in a line if you are with a group. The only concern is for Mr. Whittington's recovery.

posted by David at 4:45 AM :: Permalink ::

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