More stories about why Cheney delayed shooting news

CNN: He wanted to wait for interview with sheriff's deputies. Time: Initial statement would have "invited hysteria."

Published February 16, 2006 8:42PM (EST)

Scott McClellan said today that Dick Cheney has already answered all the "big questions" about how he handled the shooting of Harry Whittington. Dan Froomkin points us to one that Cheney didn't cover: Did the vice president delay news of the incident so that he could talk with sheriff's investigators first?

CNN White House correspondent John King seemed to say as much Wednesday evening. "At the White House," King said, "we know that Karl Rove learned about this ... Saturday night ... They tried to come up with a White House statement, they put the brakes on that when they found out the vice president was going to be interviewed by the sheriff the next day. They decided to wait until Sunday morning, they thought all this would break by noon on Sunday, it didn't break until late afternoon. At one point, they thought the vice president would stop and talk to reporters outside the hospital in Corpus Christi on Sunday. They still can't explain why he didn't do that. One senior adviser involved told me earlier today, 'He just didn't do it.'"

King's report is just one of several explanations for the delay. McClellan has said that Cheney was slow in getting the news out because he was focused on the medical condition of the man he shot. Cheney said that hunt host Katharine Armstrong wanted to put the news out herself, and that he agreed with her. And sources tell Time reporter Mike Allen that Cheney and his staff prepared a draft statement about the incident and were considering releasing it Sunday morning when Mary Matalin objected on the grounds that it "didn't say much of anything" and "would have invited hysteria." Matalin tells Time that the delay in reporting the incident wasn't about "covering up" anything. In a blending of the various stories out there, Matalin says that Cheney was busy "gathering facts, going to the sheriff" and "dealing with" his fallen friend.

As Allen explains, the result was a 20-hour delay in a story that would have been out in minutes otherwise. When someone in the White House communications office wants to get news distributed, all he has to do is pick up a phone and tell the White House operator that he needs to make a "wire call." A few minutes later, Allen says, the operator calls back with reporters from the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg on the line.

By Tim Grieve

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

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