In Washington this morning, administration officials are defending their decision not to tell the press about the incident in which Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter while hunting quail in Texas. The accident happened at about 5:30 P.M. local time on Saturday, but it was not reported until the vice president’s host, Katharine Armstrong, called her local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, on Sunday morning to give them the story. Only afterward, when contacted by the local paper, did the vice president’s office confirm the incident.
”We deferred to the Armstrongs,” an administration official familiar with the matter told National Review Online. “Ms. Armstrong’s first priority was that her guests were taken care of.”
“This was a very private party,” Katharine Armstrong told NRO. “These were very close, old, old friends. We entertained the vice president because he’s been our friend for many years. It’s always extremely personal and extremely private.” Armstrong said that after the shooting, her top concern–and that of the vice president–was that the victim, Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, receive medical care. “We were completely and totally focused on making sure Harry was okay,” Armstrong told NRO. “The vice president was focused on it.”
“Once we were sure that Harry was okay,” Armstrong continued, “I called my hometown newspaper to say that this is what happened. I said, ‘I know this is going to get out, and I want you to know exactly what happened.’”
Armstrong said that members of the vice president’s protection detail reacted instantly after the shooting. “The second this happened, the detail from the vice president’s car just poured out,” she said. “They went immediately over to Harry.” According to an administration official familiar with the accident, there was no ambulance on the scene where the hunting was going on, but there was an ambulance with the vice president’s detail on the 50,000-acre Armstrong ranch. Katherine Armstrong said it took about 20 or 25 minutes for the ambulance to reach Whittington. “We don’t have paved roads,” she said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time…the distances are pretty great out here.”
Whittington was first taken to a small-town hospital not far from the ranch. He was later taken by helicopter to a hospital in Corpus Christi.
Katharine Armstrong said she did not coordinate with the vice president’s office before calling the Corpus Christi paper. If Armstrong had not made the call, it is not clear when, if ever, the vice president’s office would have told the public about the incident. Asked what would have happened if the accident had happened another way–if, for example, Whittington had accidentally shot the vice president–the administration source told NRO that it would have been handled in a similar fashion. “The priorities would have remained the same–first medical care, then law enforcement alert,” the source said. Still, in the case of Saturday’s shooting, those matters were taken care of on Saturday, and the press was still not notified until after Katharine Armstrong made the decision to call her local paper.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: After this story appeared, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride called NRO to say that Cheney and Katharine Armstrong did discuss telling the public about the incident. “The vice president was on the Armstrong ranch, and they were talking directly,” McBride said. “The vice president and Mrs. Armstrong agreed that the media should be notified, and Mrs. Armstrong called her local paper.”
–Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President–and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.