Cheney, 'A Beer or Two' and a Gun
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Vice President Dick Cheney, who was forced to leave Yale University because his penchant for late-night beer drinking exceeded his devotion to his studies, and who is one of the small number of Americans who can count two drunk driving busts on his driving record, may have been doing more than hunting quail on the day that he shot a Texas lawyer in the face.
Katherine Armstrong, the wealthy Republican lobbyist who is a member of the politically-connected family that owns the ranch where Cheney blasted his hunting partner, acknowledged to a reporter for MSNBC that alcohol may have been served at a picnic which was served Saturday afternoon on the dude ranch where Cheney shot Harry Whittington.
According to an NBC investigative report that appeared briefly Tuesday on MSNBC, Armstrong peddled the line that she did not believe that alcohol played a part in the shooting accident. But, she admitted, "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting."
The MSNBC story, which appeared only briefly before the website was scrubbed for reasons not yet explained, has been kept alive by the able web investigators at www.rawstory.com and other progressive blogs. And so it should be, as the prospect that alcohol may have been involved in the Texas incident takes the story in a whole new direction.
By any reasonable measure, Armstrong's attempt to downplay the presence of "a beer or two" raises more questions than it answers about an incident involving a vice president who, like George W. Bush, was a heavy drinker in his youth, but who, unlike Bush, never swore off the bottle.
As with her over-the-top efforts to blame Whittington, the victim, for getting in the way of Cheney's birdshot blast, Armstrong's line on liquor smells a little more like an attempt to cover for the vice president than full disclosure.
This is where the hunting accident "incident" becomes a serious matter. The role played by the Secret Service in preventing questioning of Cheney on the evening of the shooting becomes takes on new significance. If Cheney was in any way impaired at the time of the shooting, it was certainly to the vice president's advantage put off the official investigation until the next morning.
Cheney may be able to say, unequivocally, that he was not in an impaired condition when he shot Whittington. But he does now need to start speaking to this precise issue and to all of the other questions that have been raised -- and, no, it is not enough for the vice president to take a few softballs on Fox News, the administration's house network, as the White House crisis management team arranged for him to do at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.
When legitimate questions arise regarding the role that the Secret Service might have played in undermining the investigation of a shooting in order to protect the vice president from embarrassment, and possible legal charges, those issues have to be addressed fully and completely. And they must be addressed in a setting where reporters are able to press the notoriously cagey Cheney to actually answer all of the questions that are asked.
Up to now, the whole "hunting-accident" controversy has been little more than a diversion from more serious matters involving Cheney -- not least among these, the investigation into whether the vice president authorized the release of classified information as part of a scheme to discredit critics of the administration's rush to war. But if Cheney used his Secret Service unit to prevent a necessary and proper official inquiry at a time when it might have uncovered relevant information regarding his condition when he shot a man, then the vice president has abused his office in a most serious manner.
The prospect that such an abuse occurred requires Cheney and any White House aides who were involved in "managing" the story -- put Karl Rove at the top of this list -- to stop stonewalling and provide a detailed explanation of their actions in the hours that followed the shooting incident. This is certainly not the only issue on which the vice president needs to come clean, but it is no longer a joking matter -- or, more precisely, it is no longer merely a joking matter.
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent and the author of The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).