Cheney and his "witness"

The vice president says he thought his hunting host would get an "accurate" story into the press. Did she?

Published February 15, 2006 9:31PM (EST)

Dick Cheney told Fox News today that he wanted ranch owner Katharine Armstrong to break the news that he had shot a fellow hunter in order to ensure that the public got "as accurate a story as possible." It's not clear why the White House Press Office couldn't be trusted to provide an accurate account of the incident. What is clear: Cheney's account differs in several respects from the one Armstrong put out.

Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that shooting victim Harry Whittington was "bruised more than bloodied" and that his "pride was hurt more than anything else." Cheney said that Whittington was "laying there on his back" and "obviously bleeding" after the shooting. Armstrong said that Whittington was "talking immediately" after he was hit. Cheney said that Whittington didn't respond when he first tried to talk to him.

Although Armstrong told a different story later, she initially told CNN that "she did not believe the Vice President's Office was aware that she was going to go to the local press." Cheney said that he talked with Armstrong about her plan to break the news to a local reporter and "thought it made good sense."

Cheney said he liked the idea of having Armstrong tell the story because she was a former head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department -- "an acknowledged expert in all this" -- and because she was a "witness" who had "seen the whole thing" happen.

That's how Armstrong initially passed herself off, too, telling the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that Whittington had fallen behind the hunting party and was approaching from 30 yards behind when Cheney, tracking a bird that took off in front of him, turned and shot in Whittington's direction. But it now seems that Armstrong may not have witnessed the incident at all. According to the Washington Post, Armstrong was in a vehicle about 100 yards away when the shooting happened. And she told the Associated Press that when she saw Cheney's medical detail running toward the scene, "the first thing that crossed my mind was he had a heart problem."

By Tim Grieve

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

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