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Bush ...Satisfied... With Cheney...s Handling of Shooting Accident

By Elisabeth Bumiller


President Bush said Thursday that Vice President Dick Cheney had handled the disclosure of an accidental shooting of a hunting partner “just fine” and that the incident had been a “traumatic moment” for Cheney as well as a tragic one for the victim.

Bush’s comments were his first on the matter since Cheney wounded the victim, a 78-year-old lawyer, Harry M. Whittington, on a quail-hunting expedition in Texas last weekend. They were also Bush’s first public reaction to an interview that Cheney gave about the incident on Wednesday night to Fox News, and they came on the same day that the local sheriff’s department said the investigation of the incident was closed and no charges would be filed.

Bush’s words appeared to be an attempt to tamp down widespread talk about tensions between himself and Cheney. Bush’s aides had made little secret all week that they wished Cheney had handled the matter differently — in particular by disclosing it more quickly and through a more established channel than the Web site of a local newspaper in Texas — and on Wednesday the White House signaled that Bush was sympathetic to that view. The incident was not made public for more than 18 hours.

“I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation,” Bush told reporters in the Oval Office, speaking of Cheney’s interview on Fox. “This is a man who likes the outdoors, and he likes to hunt. And he heard a bird flush and he turned and pulled the trigger and saw his friend get wounded. And it was a deeply traumatic moment for him, and obviously it was a tragic moment for Mr. Whittington.”

Bush’s words also appeared aimed at trying to put to rest an issue that has consumed the White House and kept Washington in an uproar for most of the week, distracting attention from Bush’s efforts to rebuild his political standing and push his agenda.

“I’m satisfied with the explanation he gave,” Bush said, twice.

As Bush spoke, Cheney was headed to Wyoming, his home state, to make a speech to the Legislature on Friday. Cheney was expected to mention the hunting accident in his remarks, which were scheduled before the accident.

It was unclear when, or if, Cheney would go hunting again.

In his interview with Brit Hume of Fox, Cheney talked readily of hunting as a part of his life. “It’s brought me great pleasure over the years,” he said.