The apology doesn't answer questions

Vice president didn't explain delay in going public

Analysis

February 16, 2006|By CRAIG GORDON AND TOM BRUNE | CRAIG GORDON AND TOM BRUNE,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney's public mea culpa yesterday did little to clear up significant questions surrounding the accidental shooting, including why the White House sat on the story for almost a full day and whether he received preferential treatment from local deputies.

Here is a look at some of those questions: Why didn't the White House notify the public immediately Saturday night that the vice president accidentally shot a man? Cheney makes it clear that it was his decision to wait almost a day to go public. But he doesn't indicate why top Bush aides like Karl Rove - and even President Bush himself - appear to have deferred to him on it. Why didn't Cheney just put the word out Saturday night to avoid risking charges coming from critics now of a cover-up? Cheney said he waited overnight to find out how seriously the victim, Harry Whittington, was hurt and to avoid rushing out inaccurate information. Did Rove, Bush chief of staff Andrew Card or even Bush himself want Cheney to go public Saturday night? Unknown. In one of the more striking statements from the nation's No. 2 leader, Cheney says he didn't personally speak to anyone at the White House until Sunday morning, despite having been involved in the shooting accident the night before.

Rove told Bush at about 8 p.m. Saturday that Cheney was the shooter - roughly an hour after the shooting occurred. The White House has an elaborate media operation - why did Cheney bypass it and the national media outlets that cover the White House around the clock? Also unclear. Cheney said only that he had no spokesperson traveling with him, even though his traveling staff can be in 24-7 contact with the White House. But Cheney has done little in his five years in office to disguise his disdain for the national media. How did Cheney decide to alert the news media? On Sunday, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong initially told CNN that she tipped off the local newspaper without first talking to Cheney. But by Monday, the White House said, Cheney agreed with her suggestion and told her to give the story to a reporter she knew at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Why didn't the local sheriff's office talk to Cheney on the same day as the shooting? Sheriff Ramon Salinas III and the federal Secret Service have given conflicting accounts.

On Sunday, Salinas told The New York Times that a deputy talked to Cheney Saturday night. But CBS said the sheriff's office complained a deputy had been turned away that evening.

On Monday, the Secret Service said its agents called Salinas soon after the shooting and arranged for a Sunday morning meeting with Cheney. Why didn't the sheriff charge Cheney in the shooting? Salinas said he decided it was an accident Saturday after talking to the Secret Service and a ranch hand he described as a former deputy and Salinas' daughter's boyfriend. Salinas said Cheney and Whittington also told deputies it was accidental. Whose fault was the shooting? Cheney took full responsibility yesterday for the shooting, saying, "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend." But for three days, he let his friend and hunting host, Armstrong, blame the victim, saying it was Whittington's fault for not telling other members of the hunting party he was nearby.

In the end, hunting experts say it's one of the cardinal rules of hunting, that responsibility ultimately lies with the shooter.

Craig Gordon and Tom Brune write for Newsday.

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