Thursday, February 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bush satisfied with Cheney's handling of shooting

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush is satisfied with Vice President Dick Cheney's account of his Texas hunting accident, a White House spokesman said today, and Texas authorities said they had closed their investigation into the accident without filing any charges.

The Kenedy County Sheriff's Department released its report from Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr., which said he interviewed Cheney the morning after Saturday's accident. Cheney explained that he did not see hunting companion Harry Whittington come up behind him and accidentally sprayed him with birdshot in the face and upper body while aiming at a quail, the report said.

Cheney told the story publicly Wednesday in an interview with Fox News Channel — his only public statement on the accident that occurred Saturday on a private Texas ranch.

Cheney described it as "one of the worst days of my life" and rejected the notion that Whittington bears any responsibility. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend," Cheney said.

Cheney also defended his decision to keep the shooting from the public until a day after it happened, allowing the ranch owner to tell a local newspaper about it instead of making an official announcement from the White House.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan declined to say today whether the president felt the accident should have been revealed earlier.

"I think that the vice president clearly explained the rationale behind that," McClellan said, avoiding a direct response to questions about the timeliness of public disclosure.

"The president's satisfied with what the vice president said yesterday," McClellan said today. "I think the American people are looking at this and saying, enough already," he added.

Cheney's decision to wait a day to announce the accident created a major public relations problem for the White House, with some Republicans even suggesting that it made the situation worse by suggesting the possibility of some sort of cover-up.

San Miguel wrote that his boss, Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas, called him about 6:30 p.m. CST Saturday, within an hour of the shooting, to say that he should report to the Armstrong Ranch Sunday morning at 8 a.m. to receive more information on a hunting accident there. It is not clear whether San Miguel knew he was going to interview the vice president.

San Miguel said he also got written affidavits from four other members of the hunting party, visited the scene of the accident and interviewed Whittington in the hospital. He said Whittington repeatedly said the shooting was just an accident, that there was no alcohol during the hunt and that he was concerned the case would bring a bad image to hunting in Texas.

San Miguel signed the report with a closed status on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The sheriff's department refused interview requests today, and a dispatcher who answered the phone today said no charges had been filed in the investigation.

Secret Service agents who were with Cheney did not file an incident report about the shooting because other law enforcement agencies were conducting the investigation, said Jim Mackin, the agency's deputy assistant director.

He also said it was the Kenedy County sheriff who decided not to interview Cheney on Saturday, but to wait until Sunday morning. "If they had said we're coming out now (Saturday evening), we would have facilitated it," Mackin said.

Mackin said a local officer had come to the ranch gate Saturday night to offer help after about the ambulance responding there, but left when officers at the gate said they were unaware of any emergency. The Secret Service says early reports that agents turned away deputies wanting to interview Cheney were wrong.

Cheney said he had had a beer at lunch that day but nobody was drinking when they went back out to hunt a couple hours later. Law enforcement officials have ruled out alcohol as a factor, but have not explained how they determined it was not involved.

Whittington remained in stable condition today at a Texas hospital, two days after doctors said one of the shotgun pellets traveled to his heart and he had what they called "a mild heart attack."

Associated Press writers Kelley Shannon in Austin, Texas, and Lynn Brezosky in Corpus Christi contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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