Cheney Controversy Persists

Questions about why Vice President Dick Cheney did not tell the public that he had accidentally shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington during a quail hunting outing in Texas on Saturday continue to persist. Now the White House is under fire for not releasing information on the Cheney shooting quickly enough.

Sources told ABC News that the vice president's team had debated issuing a statement early Sunday morning per the White House's request. But sources said Cheney's team decided it would be more credible to allow ranch owner and witness Katharine Armstrong to make the information public.

Armstrong is the daughter of a former Halliburton official who hired Cheney as CEO.

Whittington, 78, suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday after a birdshot in his chest traveled to his heart, Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial officials said. He is still in the hospital's intensive care unit. A hospital spokesman said that was "strictly due to personal privacy issues," and that he was sitting up, eating regular food, and planning on doing some of his legal work today.

Experts say the incident shows how powerful and independent the vice president is. He handled the shooting the way he saw fit -- and his decision continues to feed the ever-growing political fire.

"The refusal of this administration to level with the American people on matters large and small is very disturbing," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

Clinton and other top Democrats say that this is indicative of the Bush administration's tendency to not level with the American people. For them, the shooting has become a metaphor for larger problems within the administration.

So far, Cheney's office has only issued statements, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today that Cheney would give an interview with the Fox News Channel to be taped at 2 p.m. and broadcast at 6 p.m.

Even Republicans have been heard grumbling about how the White House has handled the shooting. Two prominent former press secretaries offered harsh criticism to Editor & Publisher.

Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary for former Presidents Bush and Reagan, said he was "appalled by the whole handling of this." Even the reputed loyalist Ari Fleischer, the current President Bush's first press secretary, said "it could have and should have been handled differently."

In fact, in 1994, Bush handled a similar, though far less important, incident much differently. While he was running for governor, he accidentally shot an endangered bird on a dove hunting trip. He immediately called every reporter who was on the trip with him and confessed at a news conference.

Yet, for the third day in a row, the administration has avoided a straightforward exchange of information with the public. Although McClellan knew Whittington had suffered a heart attack before Tuesday's 12:30 p.m. briefing, he suggested 11 times that the story was old news.

"When you hold it back, you raise a whole series of issues of why you're holding it back and what else happened and really what else is going on in the government that you're not telling us," said Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary under President Clinton. "It is PR 101, and they failed PR 101 here."

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