Update - Added excerpts from broadcast at 6 p.m. to end of article
After a storm of criticism from Democrats and many Republicans, Vice President Cheney finally spoke directly to the public about the circumstances surrounding his accidental shooting of a 78-year-old lawyer on Saturday, in an interview on Fox News today, RAW STORY has learned. Excerpts were shown during Fox's 2 p.m. broadcast, with the full interview set to be aired at 6 p.m.
"Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger. It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anyone else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that shot my friend," Cheney told Brit Hume on Fox, "it's a day that I'll never forget."
The Vice President also revealed that he had a beer at a picnic held earlier in the day at the ranch, at least four to five hours before the shooting.
Cheney told Hume that Ranch owner Katharine Armstrong made the call to the local media because she was an "acknowledged expert," had "grown up on the ranch," had been a former official with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with being an eyewitness to the shooting. Cheney also said that Rove communicated with Armstrong since he knew her, and had hunted before at the Armstrong Ranch.
Cheney said, "I thought it was the right call," and that he still believes so, then added, "I had no press [staffers] with me."
The Vice President "guessed" that Whittington was around thirty yards away when he shot him, and that it was one of the "worst" days of his life. Cheney has "no idea" if he hit the bird that he was aiming at.
"The image of him falling is something that I'll never be able to get out of my mind," Cheney said, "I fired and there's Harry falling."
"One of the fortunate things," Cheney added, is that he always travels with a medical staff nearby, and they got to Whittington within minutes.
Hume later told Fox Anchor Shepard Smith that he tried to get Cheney to admit that he made a mistake in the handling of the incident, but was unable to do so, and that the vice president was "utterly unapologetic" about that aspect. Hume wondered how Cheney felt about leaving White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and others hung "out to dry." But the Vice President thought that the White House staff had handled the matter appropriately.
Until today the only public words from Cheney, in regards to Harry Whittington, were limited to a statement released by the Office of the Vice President on Tuesday, which referred to Cheney in the third person. On Monday, the Office of the Vice President released a statement that addressed his failure to acquire a 7 dollar upland game bird stamp, for which the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department let him off with just a warning.
Fox News is generally more favorable to the Bush Administration than the other major cable news channels, so there may be some additional criticism hurled at the Vice President's decision to appear in a friendlier venue, instead of holding a press conference himself, where he could answer questions from the White House press corps, many of whom are still upset about the nearly 24-hour delay in reporting the incident in the first place.
Cheney took some jabs at the press and how they have covered the story, as revealed in the expanded 6 p.m. broadcast of the interview. "I had a bit of a feeling to some extant it was about them. They didn't like that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times."
The Vice President said that his "first reaction was not to think 'I need to call the press." His first reaction was what had happened to his friend, Harry.
According to Cheney, his first words after Whittington went down were, "Harry, I had no idea you were there." Whittington was still conscious, but didn't respond, as he was stunned and "still trying to figure out what had happened to him."
"It could have been extraordinarily serious," Cheney said, "...you think about his eyes, fortunately he was wearing hunting glasses.
When asked by Hume if he went in the ambulance with his friend or to the hospital, Cheney responded, "No, I had -- I told my physician's assistant to go with him, but the ambulance is crowded and they didn't need another body in there. And so we loaded up and went back to ranch headquarters, basically. By then, it's about 7:00 p.m. at night."
Cheney argued that Armstrong was the best person suited to deliver the news since she was an eyewitness and "probably knew better than I did what had happened since I'd only seen one piece of it."
Hume asked the Vice President if he thought that he could've "headed off this beltway firestorm" if he informed the national media, along with the local newspaper. "I mean, in retrospect, wouldn't that have been the wise course?" he asked.
"Well, who is going to do that? Are they going to take my word for what happened?" responded Cheney. "She was the most credible one to do it because she was a witness. It wasn't me in terms of saying, here's what happened."