Why Was Cheney's Role as The Shooter Withheld for Hours from the White House?
PLUS: Video Still Not Posted from Today's WH Press Briefing
By Brad Friedman on 2/13/2006, 7:40pm PT  

I began asking questions about this when the story came to light on Sunday.

The nearly 24 hours between the time Cheney shot Harry Whittington and the time the story was finally disclosed to the media remains unexplained --- and raises many questions.

Now it seems that the information that Cheney was the shooter in the incident was even withheld from Bush at the White House, at least for a time. In other words, the White House was informed that there had been "a hunting accident", but not that Cheney was the shooter.

It's not unusual in this White House, or any these days, that Presidents are only told the things they need to know, and nothing more. Particularly when the information could be damaging and they hope to retain "plausible deniability" should they have to testify or be asked questions about it later.

It is certainly starting to look like such a case where "plausible deniability" was on the table in the early hours, before they knew for certain if Whittington would survive the incident, after being admitted in critical condition to the hospital.

When the shooting was finally disclosed, it was by the property's owner, Katharine Armstrong. Cheney's office never actually announced it to the media, but simply "confirmed" the inquiries that came after the initial story in the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times. But media reports have said that Armstrong spoke with Cheney before doing so. In other words, he gave her the okay to let the news out finally on Sunday morning/afternoon.

In the meantime, back at the White House, as discussed in today's contentious Press Briefing, White House spokesman Scott McLellan makes it clear that though Bush was informed of the shooting Saturday evening, it wasn't until late Saturday Night --- or early Sunday Morning --- that he finally learned that Cheney himself was the shooter...

Q So as of Saturday night, you didn't know, the White House did not know that Vice President Cheney was involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there were details coming in throughout that night and into the morning. There was additional information coming in at 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and even after that.

Q But, again, Saturday night, you did not know the Vice President was involved, you just thought someone from his hunting party was ---

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I, personally, was informed by the Situation Room that there had been a hunting accident, and that is was a member of the Vice President's hunting party. But I didn't have additional information other than that at this point. Obviously, I asked questions about --- is he okay, and who was involved --- and they didn't have those facts at that point.

Q So Sunday morning you first learned that it was the Vice President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Early Sunday morning, that's correct.

The timeline here would seem to add some fuel to the question I had asked previously: If Whittington had died, would the incident --- or at least Cheney's involvement in it --- have been disclosed at all to the American people?

Or to twist another infamous question: What didn't the President know and why didn't he know it?

The fact that the officials were able to inform the White House of "a hunting accident" not long after the incident, but it wasn't until 3:00am or so, that they were notified that Cheney was the shooter, would seem to point fairly squarely to the idea that initially they were keeping the idea of "plausible deniability" for the White House on the table for some reason. Perhaps as needed in the event that Whittington didn't make it out alive and they had determined a cover-up of Cheney's involvement was needed to avoid embarrassment. Or criminal charges.

If there's a less sinister explanation for all of this, I'd be more than open to it. But Scottie certainly didn't present one in today's Press Briefing.

Speaking of which... So far, no video of that briefing on the White House website. There is usually a link to it on the same page as the transcript. I wish I had saved the WH site's front page earlier, since --- as I recall --- it had said something along the lines of "Today's Press Briefing has now concluded, we will have a transcript and video posted shortly."

Now it says only, "Today's Press Briefing with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has concluded." with a link to the text only.

Can't imagine why they wouldn't want to post today's video. :-)

Let's see how long it takes 'em to get it up there. (Crooks and Liars has it in the meantime.)

UPDATE: The White House tacked the following on to the bottom of their Press Briefing transcript. Not certain what time they did so:

Q So when did the President definitively know that the Vice President had shot somebody?

A Chief of Staff Andy Card called the President around 7:30pm EST to inform him that there was a hunting accident. He did not know the Vice President was involved at that time. Subsequent to the call, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with Mrs. Armstrong. He then called the President shortly before 8:00pm EST to update him and let him know the Vice President had accidentally shot Mr. Whittington.

I'll let you decide about their credibility here and if they've earned the benefit of the doubt. But even with such benefit, why was Card told about the accident, but not told that Cheney was the shooter when they first notified him? Only after Karl "The Architect" Rove interceded was a decision made, apparently, to let Bush know. We report, you decide.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ron Brynaert looks at some related-ish timeline questions from Cheney's side of things.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Whittington suffers heart attack! McClellan fails to inform press corp! Thread continues now here...