Cheney Endures 'Long Week' in Spotlight

During a week when he dealt with the aftermath of an accidental shooting during a Texas hunting trip, Vice President Dick Cheney also hinted that he has an unprecedented vice-presidential role in the control of classified information.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It was a week ago that vice president Cheney fired his shotgun at a quail and instead accidentally hit is hunting partner, Harry Wittington. But Mr. Cheney managed to end the week on a high note. He received a real hero's welcome back at his home state of Wyoming. Still, the episode put the Vice President back in the spotlight in a way that he finds most unwelcome.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

It was a good end to a bad week for 78-year-old attorney Harry Wittington. There had been that weekend hunting trip with the Vice President that went bad, and then on Tuesday, a minor heart attack because of bird shot near his heart. But on Friday Wittington was walking out of the hospital.

As he stood before cameras, small wounds were visible on his face. Injuries to his neck were also apparent above his shirt and tie. Although he took no questions, he said accidents happen even if you're careful. Then he added this.

Mr. HARRY WITTINGTON (Lawyer): My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President and his family have had to go through this past week. We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we've had this week.

GONYEA: Vice President Cheney himself went home yesterday as well, in his case to Cheyenne, Wyoming and a cheering crowd of state legislators.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: It's a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state. That's especially true when you've had a very long week.

Thankfully, Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: But with most of the attention on Cheney this week related to the hunting accident, he did manage to stir up some controversy on another subject as well. During his Wednesday interview with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, the investigation into the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valeria Plame came up. Cheney's former chief of staff faces criminal charges in that case, and some think he'll claim that Cheney gave him classified information to leak to reporters. Hume asked Cheney if the Vice President has the authority to declassify information.

Vice President CHENEY: There's an executive order to that effect.

Mr. BRIT HUME (Anchor, Fox News): There is?

Vice President CHENEY: Yeah.

Mr. HUME: Have you done it?

Vice President CHENEY: Well, I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions.

Mr. HUME: Have you ever done it unilaterally?

Vice President CHENEY: I don't want to get into that.

GONYEA: Those words caught the attention of presidential scholar Bruce Buchanan at the University of Texas.

Mr. BRUCE BUCHANAN (Presidential Scholar, University of Texas): Well, I was quite startled by that because it comes as close to establishing kind of a co-presidency, with respect to the use of secrecy and disclosure at least, as, to my knowledge, we've ever come, which is a remarkable thing. So far as I know, it's unprecedented.

GONYEA: Buchanan says this claim confirms two things: the remarkable level of power Cheney has in the Bush Administration and the frequency with which Cheney is associated with controversy, included the Iraq war, the CIA leak case, the fights with Congress over executive secrecy, and domestic spying without warrants. Still, Buchanan says...

Mr. BUCHANAN: I don't think it's going to change his relationship with the President. It's certainly not going to change his place of employment. I don't think it's going to reduce his scope or degree of influence inside the White House. Depending on the reactions of the people on the Republican side who have to face the voters in nine months, it may alter where Mr. Cheney does and doesn't go to try to help in that effort.

GONYEA: If Buchanan's right, it means Cheney may not have to make quite so many campaign speeches for others this fall.

Mr. BUCHANAN: I doubt if it'll break his heart.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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