Oh, shoot! Veep had no license for quail hunt
BY KENNETH R. BAZINET
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Copy of Texas Parks and Wildlife hunting accident report filed after accident in which Vice President Cheney shot hunting buddy.
WASHINGTON - Vice President Cheney had no license to kill - quail, that is.
After the White House reluctantly conceded yesterday that it sat on the blockbuster news that Cheney shot a hunting buddy Saturday, the veep's office revealed he didn't even have the proper $7 stamp on his hunting license to shoot quail in Texas.
"The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not informed of the $7 upland game-bird stamp requirement," Cheney's office said in a statement last night.
Although he was hunting illegally when he blasted Austin millionaire Harry Whittington, Cheney will get off with a warning from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, his office said.
The latest embarrassing disclosure came hours after a pair of angry exchanges between reporters and White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who admitted that top aides and President Bush knew on Saturday night about the accident, but revealed nothing.
Word of the accident only got out the next day after ranch owner Katharine Armstrong disclosed to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that Cheney had shot Whittington, 78, as he flushed out a covey of quail.
Armstrong said Whittington walked up behind Cheney without announcing he was there and was "peppered pretty good" when Cheney turned to fire at quail.
Whittington was hit with bird shot in the face and upper body and was in stable condition yesterday at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. His doctor said some of the pellets would remain lodged in Whittington's body permanently. The doctor said Whittington was hit with "less than 100" pellets.
While Whittington should have announced himself, seasoned hunters said primary responsibility lies with the shooter.
"It's incumbent upon the shooter to assess the situation and make sure it's a safe shot," said Mark Birkhauser, president-elect of the International Hunter Education Association. "Once you squeeze that trigger, you can't bring that shot back."
Team Bush declined to identify the third hunter in the party, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Pamela Willeford, and defended its decision to say nothing about the shooting on Saturday.
Armstrong suggested to the veep the shooting was going to become news and volunteered to tell the local paper.
"The vice president spoke with Mrs. Katharine Armstrong, and they agreed that she should make that information public," McClellan repeatedly stonewalled.
But having a private citizen contact the press deviated from the White House practice of sending out e-mails to the media. In an off-camera briefing marked with name-calling and loud give-and-take, McClellan was repeatedly asked about the delay and the curious method of getting the information out.
"You're totally ducking and weaving here. We don't care if some ranch owner called the local paper," NBC's David Gregory said.
"David, hold on, the cameras aren't on right now. You can do this later," McClellan shot back.
A red-faced Gregory returned fire, saying, "Don't accuse me of posing for the cameras. Don't be a jerk to me personally. When I'm asking you a serious question you should give me a serious answer instead of jerking us around."
Another reporter dryly asked if it was now standard White House policy to release information through private citizens. The contentious scene was repeated at the afternoon on-camera briefing, though without name-calling.
The shooting is being probed by the local sheriff's office, which did not begin its investigation until a day after the hunting accident happened.
The White House refused to say whether Cheney had ever taken a hunter's safety course. It did disclose that Bush was told about the shooting Saturday night by chief political adviser Karl Rove.
Cheney watchers noted the vice president has a history of sitting on information. Among his best-kept secrets, Cheney:
Refuses to disclose his taxpayer-funded travel expenses, including the money spent to take him and his friends hunting.
Still keeps under wraps the names of the corporate energy and utility execs who attended secret meetings of the White House energy task force in 2001.
Refuses to discuss his alleged role in leaking the identity of CIA spy Valerie Plame.