Case closed? Not so fast

The sheriff's department says it has closed its investigation into Dick Cheney's shooting incident. It doesn't seem to have been much of one.

Published February 17, 2006 2:54PM (EST)

When deputies from the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department finally got around to interviewing Harry Whittington on Monday afternoon -- nearly 48 hours after he was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney -- they found the 78-year-old attorney sitting in a chair in his hospital room.

Whittington declined to have his interview tape-recorded, said that "foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt," then managed to get about halfway through the story of the shooting before a nurse told deputies that they'd have to wrap up their interview so that Whittington could get some rest.

The sheriff's department says the case is now closed, and the Washington Post says the deputies' report "largely corroborates" the accounts of the shooting that Dick Cheney and Katharine Armstrong have provided to the press.

Even if that were true -- Whittington's claim about alcohol squares only technically with Cheney's, and Armstrong's seems to change every time she opens her mouth -- it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

The sheriff's department's report corroborates the account given by Cheney and Armstrong because it is the account given by Cheney and Armstrong. If their report is any indication, the deputies reached their conclusions based entirely on statements from members -- well, some members -- of the Cheney-Armstrong hunting party. Aside from their abbreviated discussion with Whittington, they interviewed Cheney, Armstrong and three other witnesses who had every reason to bolster the Cheney-Armstrong story: Armstrong's sister, a hunting guide who was working for Armstrong and U.S. ambassador Pamela Willeford. Whittington was allowed to pass on the tape recorder; the hunting guide was allowed to agree to provide a written statement down the road; and a second hunting guide, a former sheriff himself, was allowed to declare the incident an "accident" without, it seems, any further questioning at all.

If the deputies took statements from the Secret Service agents who must have been nearby when the shooting happened, if they talked to anyone involved in serving lunch and beer to the hunting party, if they asked Whittington's doctors about his blood-alcohol level, if they asked Cheney's doctors about the possibility that even a small amount of alcohol, when mixed with the "long list" of medication he takes, might have impaired his shooting abilities -- well, if they did any of that, it's not reflected in the report that "corroborates" the Cheney-Armstrong account.

We're not saying that the report is wrong. We're just saying that it doesn't appear to be the sort of definitive statement on the episode that warrants walking away from it entirely.

By Tim Grieve

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

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