White House Takes Heat Over Shooting Disclosure

ByABC News via logo

Feb. 14, 2006 — -- Texas law enforcement has officially declared the shooting by Vice President Dick Cheney an accident; there was no alcohol involved or misconduct. But what could have been a one-day story about a mishap has turned into a political struggle between the White House and the press over questions of transparency and whether and when the public has a right to know about the activities of the second-highest elected official in the nation.

After being questioned by reporters about why it took so long to alert the press about the shooting and why the vice president's office still was not responding to questions, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who appeared flustered at times, reiterated that nothing improper had occurred.

"There wasn't a press corps traveling with the vice president. He didn't have his full entourage that he might have on other trips, official trips," he said. "This was a weekend hunting trip."

McClellan insisted that the White House and the vice president's office were not trying to hide information, and that they thought it was proper to have Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch where Cheney was hunting, alert the press about the incident.

After difficulty getting information from Cheney's staff, ABC News learned from sources mostly outside the White House that the vice president's Secret Service contingent had notified the local sheriff an hour after the vice president accidentally shot prominent Texas lawyer Harry Whittington with a shotgun loaded with birdshot while hunting for quail.

Whittington was in stable condition at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial. His daughter said after he was shot, the 78-year-old Republican supporter was unsure whether he was being taken to the hospital or the morgue.

Later that evening, White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove was informed, and he briefed the president. Early Sunday morning -- 14 hours after the shooting -- local law enforcement interviewed Cheney, and Armstrong called her local paper with the story. At 3 p.m., nearly 21 hours after the accident, the vice president's office confirmed the shooting to a reporter for The Associated Press who had called the White House.

McClellan said he was informed about the incident on Saturday, but he was unable to tell the press why he did not talk about the shooting until Sunday.

The vice president, who has spoken about the responsibilities that come with carrying a gun, has yet to comment about the shooting. Cheney's office said that he had paid a $7 fee for a required certification he had failed to purchase before hunting.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events