Dick Cheney and the grassy knoll

What did the president know, and why didn't he know it sooner?

Published February 13, 2006 8:02PM (EST)

It keeps getting weirder.

According to the Associated Press, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said today that the White House situation room informed the president and his senior aides Saturday night that someone in Dick Cheney's hunting party had been shot -- but that the president wasn't told until Sunday morning that the shooter was Dick Cheney himself.

That strikes us a a relevant detail.

How is it that the vice president of the most powerful nation of the world could shoot somebody -- within view of several witnesses, including, presumably, a contingent of Secret Service agents -- and the president doesn't hear about it until a day later? If the people in the White House situation room knew about the shooting, how could they not know about the shooter? Why did the Secret Service prevent local authorities from talking to Cheney about the incident? And why did the Bush-Cheney Pioneer who first reported the shooting initially refuse to reveal that Pamela Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, was hunting alongside Cheney and his victim?

Not to get all "grassy knoll" here, but something doesn't add up. If people in the White House situation room really didn't know the true facts about the shooting incident until Sunday morning, is there any explanation but that Cheney -- or those working with him -- chose not to tell them? Why wouldn't Cheney want the White House to know the truth right away? Did he think it would never come out? Or was somebody keeping the Cheney-did-it story quiet while coming up with a plan for someone else to take the fall?

A question like that one may belong in tinfoil-hat country, but stories that don't make sense invite that kind of speculation. This is one of those stories, and it comes from an administration that has handed out a lot of them.

Update: As Anne Kornblut and Ralph Blumenthal write in Tuesday's New York Times, McClellan "struggled at times" Monday "to explain even the most basic details in the case, including when and how Mr. Bush was informed about it." Ultimately, the White House sent reporters what Elisabeth Bumiller called a "surreal" e-mail message: It was appending to the transcript of McClellan's afternoon press briefing an after-the-fact answer to the question of when Bush knew definitively that Cheney had been the shooter. It was not Sunday morning, as the Associated Press says that McClellan said earlier in the day, but Saturday evening. "Chief of Staff Andy Card called the president around 7:30 p.m. EST to inform him that there was a hunting accident," the White House now says. "He did not know the vice president was involved at that time. Subsequent to the call, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with [ranch owner Katharine] Armstrong. He then called the president shortly before 8 p.m. EST to update him and let him know the vice president had accidentally shot Mr. Whittington."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Dick Cheney War Room