- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

President Bush yesterday endorsed Vice President Dick Cheney’s response to a hunting mishap in Texas as local authorities closed their probe into the weekend shooting and said no charges would be filed.

“I thought the vice president handled the issue just fine,” Mr. Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. “I’m satisfied with the explanation he gave.”

So were local law-enforcement authorities who investigated Mr. Cheney’s shooting of hunting companion Harry Whittington on the Armstrong Ranch in Corpus Christi on Saturday. The 78-year-old lawyer was hit with birdshot in his face, neck and chest.

“This, in fact, is an accident,” Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III said.

Mr. Bush, hoping to get past a major distraction that has dominated headlines for days, said Mr. Cheney’s interview Wednesday with Brit Hume of Fox News Channel effectively closed the matter.

“I thought yesterday’s explanation was a very strong and important explanation to make to the American people,” the president said in his first public remarks on the episode. “It profoundly affected him.”

Mr. Bush issued his remarks shortly after the Kenedy County Sheriff’s Office released a report declaring the case “closed” with no charges filed against Mr. Cheney. The probe was headed by Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr., who interviewed the vice president on Sunday at the Armstrong Ranch and spoke with Mr. Whittington on Monday at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi.

The furor over the shooting began to show signs of abating yesterday. The White House aggressively pushed back against suggestions that the shooting symbolized deeper problems in the administration.

“The American people are looking at this and saying, ‘Enough already,’ ” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “Most Americans believe that this issue has been covered thoroughly, and most Americans recognize that the vice president is first and foremost concerned about his friend.”

Mr. McClellan also suggested that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was a “conspiracy theorist” for drawing parallels between the shooting mishap and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, as well as a criminal probe into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“The only ones who are making such allegations like that are the most partisan of people or the conspiracy theorists,” he said. “Most Americans reject that wholeheartedly.”

Mr. Bush said Democrats who say the episode epitomized White House secrecy are drawing “the wrong conclusion about a tragic accident.”

Not all Democrats were unsympathetic.

“The vast majority of Americans, including me, feel a sense of empathy and sympathy for both Cheney and his good friend that got shot,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, told CNN.

Although Mr. Cheney made clear that he was devastated to have shot his friend, he also made a point of refusing to apologize to the press for not disclosing the episode immediately.

CNN seemed miffed by Mr. Cheney’s decision to grant an exclusive interview to its competitor, Fox News Channel. CNN commentator Jack Cafferty said it was “a little bit like Bonnie interviewing Clyde. … I mean, running over there to the Fox network — talk about seeking a safe haven.”

Mr. Hume rejected suggestions that the vice president chose Fox for ideological reasons.

“Nah,” he said on his nightly show, “Special Report.” “I thought it was probably because he wanted to go with the news channel with the largest audience.”

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