Exclusive Interview With V.P. Dick Cheney

Published February 16, 2006

| FoxNews.com

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 15, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

Click here to read a transcript of the entire program, including the panel discussion of the interview.

Click here to read a full, unedited transcript of the interview.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS HOST: Mr. Vice President, how's Mr. Whittington?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're beginning to hear he's doing very well today. I talked to him Tuesday after they discovered the heart problem, but that appears now to have been pretty well resolved, and the reporting today is very good.

HUME: How did you feel when you heard about that?

CHENEY: Well, it's a big relief. But I'm not going to be, obviously, totally at ease until he's home. He's going to be in the hospital apparently for a few more days, and the problem obviously is that there's always a possibility of complications in somebody who's 78, 79 years old. But he's a great man. He's in great shape, a good friend and, you know, our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

HUME: How long have you known him?

CHENEY: I first met him in Vail, Colorado, when I worked for Gerry Ford about 30 years ago, and it's the first time I'd ever hunted with him.

HUME: Would you describe him as a close friend? Friendly acquaintance?

CHENEY: An acquaintance.

HUME: Tell me what happened.

CHENEY: Well, basically, we were hunting quail, late in the day.

HUME: Let's recall the setting.

CHENEY: It's in South Texas, wide open spaces, a lot of brush cover, but fairly shallow, but it's wild quail. It's some of the best quail hunting any place in the country. I've gone there to the Armstrong ranch for years. The Armstrongs have been friends for over 30 years. And a group of us had hunted all day on Saturday.

HUME: How many?

CHENEY: Probably 10 people. We weren't all together, but about 10 guests at the ranch. There were two of us who had gotten out of the vehicle and walked up on a covey of quail that had been pointed by the dogs. The covey was flushed, we shot, and each of us got a bird. Harry couldn't find his. It had gone down in some deep cover, so he went off to look for it. The other hunter and I then turned and walked about 100 yards in the other direction.

HUME: Away from him?

CHENEY: Away from him, where another covey had been spotted by an outrider. I was on the far right ...

HUME: There was just two of you then?

CHENEY: Just two of us at that point, a guide and an outrider between us. And, of course, there was the entourage behind us, all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I'm out there. But the bird flushed and went to my right off to the west. I turned and shot at the bird, and at that second, saw Harry standing there. I didn't know he was there.

HUME: You had pulled the trigger, and you saw him.

CHENEY: Well I saw him fall, basically.

HUME: What were you wearing?

CHENEY: He was dressed in orange, he was dressed properly, but he was also — there was a little bit of a gully there so he was down a little ways below land level. All I could see was the upper part of his body — but I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I fired. And the sun was directly behind him there, affected the vision too, I'm sure.

But the image of him falling is something that I'll never be able to get out of my mind. I fired and there's Harry falling, and it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.

HUME: Then what?

CHENEY: Well, we went over to him obviously right away.

HUME: How far away from you was he?

CHENEY: I'm guessing about 30 yards, which was a good thing. If he'd been closer, obviously, the damage from the shot would have been greater.

HUME: Now is it clear — he caught part of the shot, is that right?

CHENEY: Part of the shot, he was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso, on the right side of his body.

HUME: And I take it you missed the bird.

CHENEY: I had no idea. You know, you're focused on the bird, but as soon as I fired and saw Harry there, everything else went out of my mind. I don't know whether the bird went down.

HUME: So did you run over to him, or —

CHENEY: I ran over to him and...

HUME: What did you see? He was lying there —

CHENEY: He was laying there on his back, obviously, bleeding. You could see where the shot had struck him. And one of the fortunate things was that I've always got a medical team that's covering me wherever I go, and I had a physician's assistant with me that day. Within a minute or two, he was on the scene, administering first aid.

HUME: And Mr. Whittington was conscious, unconscious, what?

CHENEY: He was conscious.

HUME: What did you say?

CHENEY: He was — well I said, "Harry, I had no idea you were there."

HUME: What did he say?

CHENEY: He didn't respond. He was bleeding, conscious at that point, but he didn't — he was I'm sure stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him. And the doc was fantastic.

HUME: What did you think when you saw the injuries? How serious did they appear to you to be?

CHENEY: I had no idea how serious it was going to be. I mean, it could have been extraordinarily serious. You just don't know at that moment. You know he's been struck, you know that there's a lot of shot that hit him. But you don't know — you think about his eyes. Fortunately he was wearing hunting glasses that protected his eyes.

You just don't know. And the key thing as I say, initially, was that the physician's assistant was right there. We also had an ambulance at the ranch because one always follows me around wherever I go. And they were able to get the ambulance there. Within about 30 minutes, we had him on his way to the hospital.

HUME: And what did you do then? Did you get up and go with him or did you go to the hospital?

CHENEY: No, I had told my physician's assistant to go with him, but the ambulance was crowded and they didn't need another body in there. And, so we loaded up and went back to ranch headquarters, basically. That's about 7:00 at night and...

HUME: Did you have a sense then of how he was doing?

CHENEY: We were given reports, but they were confusing. Early reports are always wrong. The initial report came back from the ambulance were that he was doing well, eyes were open. They got him into the emergency room at Kingsville —

HUME: His eyes were open when you found him, right?

CHENEY: Yes. One eye was open.

HUME: Right.

CHENEY: But they got him in the emergency room in the small hospital in Kingsville, checked him out further there, then lifted him by helicopter from there into Corpus Christi, which has the city hospital with all of the equipment.

HUME: So by now what time is it?

CHENEY: I don't have an exact timeline, some time that evening, 8, 9:00.

HUME: So this was several hours after the incident.

CHENEY: I'd say he was at Kingsville in the emergency room, probably, less than an hour after he left the ranch.

HUME: Now, you're a seasoned hunter?

CHENEY: I am, for the last 12 or 15 years.

HUME: So, you know all the procedures and how to maintain the proper line and distance between you and other hunters and all that, so how, in your judgment did this happen? Who — what would cause this? What was the responsibility here?

CHENEY: Well, ultimately, I am the guy who pulled the trigger, that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that is the bottom line. And there is no — it's not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that's a day I'll never forget….

HUME: Now, what thought did you give then to how — you must have known that this was, whether it was a matter of state or not, is news. What thought did you give that evening to how this news should be transmitted?

CHENEY: Well, my first reaction, Brit, was not to think I needed to call the press. My first reaction is my friend Harry has been shot. And we've got to take care of him. That evening, there were other considerations, we need to make sure his family was taken care of, his wife was on the ranch. She wasn't with us when it happened. We got her hooked up with the ambulance on way to the hospital with Harry. He has grown children. We wanted to make sure they were notified so they didn't hear on television that their father had been shot. That was important, too.

We also didn't know what the outcome here was going to be. We didn't know for sure what kind of shape Harry was in. We had preliminary reports but — they wanted to do a CAT scan, for example, to see how — whether or not there was any internal damage. Whether or not any vital organ had been penetrated by any of the shot. We did not know until Sunday morning that we could be confident that everything was probably going to be OK.

HUME: And when had the family — when had the family been informed?

CHENEY: Well, his wife knew as he was leaving the ranch.

HUME: Right. I mean, what about his children?

CHENEY: I didn't make the calls to the children, so I don't know exactly when those contacts were made.

HUME: Right.

CHENEY: And one of his daughters had made it to the hospital by the next day when I visited. But one of the things I have learned over the years was, first reports are often wrong, and you need to really wait and nail it down. And there was enough variation in the reports we were getting.

HUME: From the hospital?

CHENEY: From the hospital and so forth. Couple of people who'd been guests at the ranch went up to the hospital — I think one of them was a doctor. He obviously had some professional capabilities, in terms of being able to relay messages. But we really didn't know until Sunday morning that Harry was probably going to be okay, that it looked like there hadn't been any serious damage to any vital organ. And that's when we began the process of notifying the press.

HUME: What — you must have recognized, though, with all your experience in Washington, that this was going to be a big story.

CHENEY: True, it was unprecedented. I've been in the business for a long time, and never seen a situation quite like this. We've had experiences where the president's been shot, but never had a situation where the vice president shot somebody.

HUME: Not since Aaron Burr.

CHENEY: Not since Aaron Burr.

HUME: Different circumstances.

CHENEY: Different circumstances.

HUME: Did it occur to you that sooner is — I mean, one thing that we all kind of learned over the last several decades is that when something like this happens, as a rule, sooner is better?

CHENEY: Well, if it's accurate. If it's accurate. I mean, this is a complicated story.

HUME: But there were some things you knew. I mean, you knew the man had been shot, you knew he was injured, you knew he was in the hospital, and you knew you'd shot him.

CHENEY: Correct.

HUME: And you knew some time that evening that the relevant members of his family had been called. I realize you didn't know the outcome, because —but you don't know the outcome today, really, finally.

CHENEY: Barring those we saw. If we'd put out a report Saturday night — we could have then — one report came in said, "superficial injuries." Had we gone with a statement of that, then we would have been wrong.

And it was also important, I thought, to get the story out as accurately as possible.

HUME: Now, it strikes me that you must have known that this was going to be a national story.

CHENEY: Oh, sure.

HUME: And it does raise the question of whether you could have headed off this Beltway firestorm if you had put out the word to the national media as well as to the local newspaper so that it could post it on its Web site. I mean, in that respect, wouldn't that have been the wiser course of ….

CHENEY: It isn't easy to do that. Are they going to take my word for what happened? There is, obviously...

HUME: You could have put the statement out in the name of whoever you wanted, and you could put it out in the name of Mrs. Katharine Armstrong, if you wanted to. She's the one who made the statement.

CHENEY: Exactly — that's what we did. We went to Mrs. Armstrong. We had -- she was the one who put out the statement, and she was the most credible one there because she was a witness, in terms of saying here's what happened.

HUME: Right, I understood that. Now, the suspicion grows in some quarters that this was an attempt to minimize it by having it first appear in a little paper and appear like a little hunting incident down in a remote corner of Texas.

CHENEY: There isn't any way this was going to be minimized, but it was important to be accurate. I do think, from what I've experienced over the years here in Washington has been the media outlets have proliferated, speed has become sort of a driving force, lots of times at the expense of accuracy, and I wanted to make sure we got it as accurate as possible.

And I think Katharine was an excellent choice. I don't know who you could get better as a basic source for the story than the witness who saw the whole thing….

HUME: On another subject, court filings have indicated that Scooter Libby has suggested that his superiors — unidentified — authorized the release of some classified information. What do you know about that?

CHENEY: There's nothing I can talk about, Brit. It's an issue that's been under investigation for a couple of years. I've cooperated fully, including being interviews done by a special prosecutor. All of it's now going to trial. Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He is a great guy. I worked with him for a long time. I have tremendous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case and it is therefore inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case.

HUME: Let me ask you another question. Is it your view that a vice president has the authority to declassify information?

CHENEY: There is an executive order to that effect.

HUME: There is.

CHENEY: Yeah.

HUME: Have you done it?

CHENEY: Well, I have certainly advocated declassification. I have participated in declassification decisions.

HUME: Have you —

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: I don't want to get into that. There's an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously it focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president.

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