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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dick Cheney Tries to Put Hunting Accident to Rest With Interview; New Pictures of Abu Ghraib Abuse Released; Google Taken to Task Over Cooperation With Chinese Government
Aired February 15, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're now in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States to bring you the day's top stories happening now. It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington where Vice President Dick Cheney finally speaks out and takes the blame for shooting a hunting partner. But can he explain why it took so long to bring the facts out to the people? Did the White House trigger news media trigger a feeding frenzy by trying to hush up the hunting accident? And how does this frenzy compare to other affairs?
And it's 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad. They were pictures that shocked the world and landed some U.S. soldiers in prison, themselves, now more grim images of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison; their impact has yet to be measured.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Vice president Cheney calls it one of the worst day of his life when he pulled the trigger and shot his friend, Harry Whittington. By speaking out today, Cheney gave critics and even some concerned republicans at least some of what they wanted. But, was it enough to ease this uproar over the hunting accident. CNN's Ed Lavandera is standing by in Corpus Christi with the condition -- the latest on the condition of Harry Whittington. John King is standing by, he's got more on the damage control undertaken by the vice president. But let's go to the White House first, our correspondent, Dana Bash, with what Dick Cheney had to say today -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf in talking to associates and friends of Dick Cheney over the past couple of days, even some at the White House, they said, perhaps the best thing to do is to come out and talk to the press, have a press conference, answer lots of questions. In the end when Dick Cheney decided to come out and talk, he did it Dick Cheney's way.
(voice-over): Four days after he shot a man, the vice president walked across the White House driveway to talk, for the first time, about what happened in what aides say will be his only appearance, an interview with FOX News. "The image of him falling is something 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. He was laying there on his back, obviously bleeding. You could see where the shot struck him."
The uncharacteristically introspective description is exactly what frustrated associates, even senior Bush aides, say he should have done right away, portray a human drama, not a political cover-up. But Mr. Cheney had no regrets about the controversial way the incident was disclosed to the public nearly 24 hours later and by a private citizen, not him.
"I thought that was the right call, I still do. I had no press person with me. I was there on a private weekend with friends."
The vice president confirmed that the morning after the shooting he and Kathryn Armstrong decided she would tell the story to the local paper. She was his host and an eyewitness.
"I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting," he said, "accuracy was enormously important."
But the way Mrs. Armstrong explained it to do CNN and others, the shooting was Mr. Whittington's fault because he broke hunting protocol by not making his presence known when he rejoined the group. The vice president now says it was his fault.
"You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And I say that is something I'll never forget."
Now, Wolf, there will be rampant rumors for days on the blogs, especially that there were alcohol involved, that was the reason, perhaps, for this accident. The vice president said today he did have a beer at lunch, but that was about three hours, even before this incident happened. He said that nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence when they were actually hunting.
BLITZER: What are the prospects of full-scale news conference now that he's done a one-on-one sit-down interview?
BASH: That's a very good question. I can't answer that. It depends on how we see the next couple of days unfold. There are certainly a lot of reporters, I think it's fair to say, who would like to ask him questions, as well. That would like to a lot of different things. But, we'll see how this plays outs. The vice president has not given very many -- I can't rember the last time he actually gave a press conference. This is the way he tends to do business. He tends to sit down with reporters, reporters that he's comfortable with and that's what he did tonight.
BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House, thank you very much. Now, that the vice president has talked publicly about the hunting accident, many people still wondering why he didn't do this days ago. Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He has more -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, call around town, democrats, republican, veterans of previous administrations in previous crisis, even call some of the president's top aides, and they will tell you that they would not have handles it this way. They also tell you that the vice president doesn't ask their advice.
(voice-over): The vice president with 30-plus years in Washington handled his hunting accident in ways that run afoul of traditional damage control playbooks. For starters, the initial 20 hour delay in revealing that Mr. Cheney accidentally shot a friend and letting the ranch owner call the local paper violates the gold standard of crisis management.
JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: Tell it early, tell it all, and tell it yourself, and they broke all the rules. This say public figure and it has to get out immediately. If you don't get it out immediately, there will be this feeling that there is malfeasance.
KING: More than three days of silence by the vice president, broke another rule.
ERIC DEZENHALL, PRES., DEZENHALL RESOURCES: Silence implies guilt, even though it doesn't mean guilt, and even if it doesn't really mean guilt, there is a tendency in a democratic society to think that it means that something worses that gone on.
PODESTA: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It creates the impression that he's both -- not only has no remorse, but he's sort of almost unfeeling in this.
KING: Speaking with one voice is another staple of Damage Control 101 and this White House was once considered legendary for its communication discipline, but in this case, a mixed message.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was urging that that information about made available as quickly as possible.
DEZENHALL: The whole idea that there is a battle between the president and the vice president's staff. That's an upstairs, downstairs drama.
PODESTA: No one can say no to this vice president. You know, we've seen it in policy matters as well as in a communications matter like this.
KING: To calm a crisis, you have to gain control. And Mr. Cheney took charge of that effort by finally telling his stores Wednesday.
DENZENHALL: You pick one reporter, you do one interview. You convey your humanity, and then you sign off and don't address it again. PODESTA: He would have been better off standing up -- you know, stand in front of a microphone, bringing in a press pool and letting them ask questions until they got tired of asking questions.
KING: Now, senior Cheney advisers, including some who have spoken to him repeatedly in recent days, say that his friend's health, not political concerns, not damage control is the vice president's top concern, but they also acknowledge, Wolf, some missteps, some mistakes, some miscommunication, and in fact some friction in the days between the accident and Mr. Cheney finally telling his side of the story.
BLITZER: Friction, John, between whom?
KING: Friction among those who where advising Mr. Cheney to make the statement. At the White House, we know that Karl Rove learned about this Sunday night, Saturday night, excuse me. They tried to come up with a White House statement, they put the brakes on that when they found out the vice president was going to be interviewed by the sheriff the next day. They decided to wait until Sunday morning, they thought all this would break by Noon on Sunday, it didn't break until late afternoon. At one point, they thought the vice president would stop and talk to reporters outside the hospital in Corpus Christi on Sunday. They still can't explain why he didn't do that. One senior adviser involved told me earlier today, quote, "He just didn't do it."
WOLF: John King, thanks very much. Let's get an update now, on the man the vice president shot. Harry Whittington is still recovering in a Texas hospital. And while the vice president was opening up, hospital officials seems to be clamming up, at least a bit, from the day before. CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from outside the hospital in Corpus Christi.
What's the latest there -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf, well encouraging news from Corpus Christi, tonight, even know Mr. Whittington is still on the around the clock observation.
(voice-over): After giving reporters many details about his Whittington's condition yesterday, today, hospital authorities were clearly more careful.
PETER BANKO, HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR: We're trying to share as much information as possible and being open and honest with you, but we are not going to practice medicine on television.
LAVANDERA: Here's what we learned, doctors say 78-year-old Harry Whittington is doing extremely well and has a normal heart rhythm again, a day after suffering a minor heart attack. He's sitting up, eating and even doing some work, but he's still in intensive care. The hospital spokesman says that's for privacy reasons. BANKO: He's not there due to his medical condition.
LAVANDERA: Doctors have no plans to remove the birdshot pellet lodged in or alongside Whittington's heart muscle.
BANKO: We're 100 percent satisfied where the BB is it will remain.
LAVANDERA: Other questions about Whittington and condition went unanswered.
QUESTION: No comment on how many bbs are inside of him.
BANKO: We can't comment on what type of BBs or birdshot is was.
LAVANDERA: Mr. Whittington is expected to stay here at this hospital, in Corpus Christi, for at least six days. That of course could change at any moment. They will continue to monitor him around the clock and when asked what Mr. Whittington thought of the hoopla and the coverage -- the news media coverage of his accident, he said it's much ado about nothing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Corpus Christi for us. Thanks very much.
Much more on the vice president's comments coming up here, in THE SITUATION ROOM, this hour. And you can read the entire transcript of the vice president's interview. Go to CNN.com for that.
Our Zain Verjee is still on lone to "American Morning." Carol Lin is joing us now from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with some other news making headlines -- Carol.
CAROL LIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff admits there were mistakes in how the government responded to Hurricane Katrina. Now, he testified before a Senate committee, Today. The panel's republican chair called the government's response a failure. Chertoff denied criticism his agent or the White House were detached. But, he did say he would do things differently if had the chance.
Well, President Bush says he's got a low-cost prescription for costly health care. At Wendy's head quarters in Ohio today, the president touted his health savings accounts. He says they're an affordable alternative to traditional health insurance. Now, it sure seemed like people liked what they heard, 9,000 Wendy's employees have signed up for the tax-free accounts, but critics say they could lead to more Americans going without coverage.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Pakistan for the third straight day. They are angry over the European newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Three people were killed when demonstrations turned violent in Peshawar and Lahore. Among the victims, an 8-year-old boy
Meanwhile, the European Union is condemning the drawings and the resulting violence. Secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, got a mixed reception on Capitol Hill, today. She went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to push for $75 million to promote democracy in Iran. But senators grilled her about the Middle East. Nebraska republican, Chuck Hagel, told Rice, he thinks things are getting worse in Iraq and Iran. And democratic Senator Barbara Boxer accused the administration of turning a tin ear to Arab views. That was the secretary's day on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. Time now for Jack Cafferty and the "Cafferty File." Jack is in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hi Wolf. Vice President Dick Cheney has been a Washington player for almost four decades and his resume is impressive. He served in the Nixon administration, we was the youngest-ever chief of staff under President Ford. He represented Wyoming in the House of Representatives. He was secretary of defense and perhaps the most powerful vice president in our history. But it's entirely possible, as Cheney begins to fade from public view over the next couple years, that he'll be most remembered for a hunting accident that quickly came to represent, for many, all that's wrong with the administration. It's funny how things work out, you know? A seemingly innocuous quail hunting trip suddenly explodes into a nightmare that could tarnish the vice president for the rest of his days. The question then is this: How will the shooting incident affect Vice President Cheney's legacy? You can e-mail us your thoughts at email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Thanks Jack. We'll get back to you later this hour. Coming up, disturbing new images of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib. Will they open old wounds in the Middle East? We'll have details of how the United States military is now handling this situation.
Plus, more fallout from the vice president's hunting accident. We'll tell you why a piece of legislation in New York is being called "Cheney's Law." And are the news media in a full-fledged feeding frenzy over this storm. Our Bruce Morton will weigh in. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a hunting accident, is the press going overboard? We're tuning into talk radio, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. we'll be right back.
BLITZER: Vice President Dick Cheney breaks his silence today on the hunting accident. We're going to have much more on the story coming up, but first, some other important news. They left Americans stunned and the world outraged, images of U.S. troops abusing Iraqis at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison. Now, there are more pictures from that grim time. They have emerged, these pictures. Will they add fuel to the fire as America fights an already desperate battle for the hearts and minds in Muslim world? Brian Todd is standing by with his report. Well, let's go to the Pentagon first, Barbara Starr has the latest there -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been more than two years since the scandal at Abu Ghraib first emerged and shocked the world. Now, new developments.
(voice-over): Australian television was the first to broadcast these, some of the hundreds of additional photos and videos of soldiers physically abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. The U.S. government did not want these disturbing images made public. Australian television did not disclose how they obtained the pictures. One sequence showing a restrained prisoner hitting his head against the wall. The Australian report described the man as mentally disturbed. With riots across the Islamic world in response to cartoons depicturing the Prophet Muhammad, this all could not come at a wrong time. The U.S. military has long worried the release of the photos cold lead to a violent reaction in the Arab world. Last September, General Abizaid made clear he thought new photos on an old story were damaging.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR. U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: When we continue to pick up the wound and show it over and over again, it just creates an image, which is a false image, like this is the sort of stuff that is happening anew, and it's not.
STARR: The American Civil Liberties Union is one of several groups suing the Bush administration for access to unreleased photos.
CAROLINE FREDERICKSON, DIR. ACLU WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE OFFICE: I think the most critical thing is to make sure there isn't additional violence in a response of that type is to make sure that people in the Middle East and Muslims around the world see that the United States is actually holding people accountable.
STARR: And Wolf, the Pentagon says that is exactly what they're doing. They continue to investigate any allegations of prisoner abuse that come to them and they say they have held dozens and dozens of military personnel accountable for their actions in a variety of abuse allegation investigations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.
It's being fought on the streets, in newspapers, on TV screens, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. Is America winning or losing this battle. Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd, he's watching this story -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many observers believe those Abu Ghraib pictures but the U.S. at a very low ebb, right now, especially as they play against an insurgent spin machine that's more effective. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
(voice-over): For America's image makers, the timing could not be worse. In just two days, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Citibank branches gutted in Pakistan. An American flag burned. Violent protests over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Now, newly released pictures showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib cold fan anti-U.S. sentiment even further.
These were taken in 2003 at about the same time as other notorious photographs later leaked to the media. The U.S. military calls the airing of these picks by an Australian TV network irresponsible. But as America's image takes another hit, a new report shows Iraqi insurgents are becoming more successful in their image campaign.
ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Videos, internet sites, PDF files.
TODD: Robert Malley's International Crisis Group found websites produced by Iraq's main insurgent groups with slick Madison Avenue- style packaging.
ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush, we say, you have asked us to bring it on and so have we, like never expected. Have you another challenge?
TODD: Packaging that includes footage of insurgent attacks, part of what Malley calls a multimedia enterprise.
MALLEY: If they're going on a sniper attack, or an IED attack, they send journalists -- a media team, to tape it, to record it, to have commentary, and then it is posted on the website.
TODD: Torie Clarke, now a CNN analyst, helped project it during the Iraq world as Pentagon spokeswoman.
TORIE CLARKE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a real uphill battle for us because we have to tell the truth. They don't. They can lie, they can cheat, they can deceive.
TODD: But other observers believe these messages, played against deceptions of American occupation and abuse, erode U.S. legitimacy in the region.
TIM ROEMER, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: The Bush administration has taken precious little steps toward implementing a strategy to win the hearts and minds...
TODD: But contacted by CNN, a State Department spokesman vehemently disputes that notion, saying the majorities of Iraqis reject the insurgents' message. And he points to U.S. efforts on the ground to enhance its own message to reach people in a more personal way, like the funding of scholarships and exchange programs. Those things, he says, never get talked about -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks Brian, for that.
Still to come, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, New York lawmakers taking a special interest in Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident. We'll tell you why they're calling a new bill there, "Cheney's Law."
Plus, the internet and censored searches in China. Our internet reporters will have some details of the situation online. Stay with us.
BLITZER: New York state lawmakers are taking special notice of Vice President Cheney's hunting accident this weekend. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with the story -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, they're taking notice because a hunting safety bill is on the table in Albany. It's not linked at all to the vice president, but because of the timing of his hunting accident, republicans and democrats in New York have dubbed it "Cheney's Law."
(voice-over): Senator Bill 1425 is the official name in New York Senate. Just by coincidence, it was up for consideration this week for the third year in a row. Now Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident is giving this little-known bill much more prominence.
GEORGE WINNER (R), NEW York STATE SENATE: Given the travails, again, of the vice president it was amusingly labeled "Cheney's Law."
SNOW: Lawmakers stress that the circumstances of the vice president's hunting accident and the bill are completely unrelated. The bill makes it a felony to leave the scene of a hunting accident where someone is seriously injured. A crime punishable by at least seven years of prison. To be clear, officials say the vice president did not leave the scene of Saturday's accident, but because of the timing of the mishap, the hunting safety bill is getting much more attention than ever before.
RICHARD BRODSKY (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: It changed the political dynamics quite dramatically, quite swiftly. Almost unlike anything else that's happened.
SNOW: And because it's a republican vice president, political observers say, it sparked interest in state democrats who've, until now, blocked the bill.
FRED DICKER, "NEW YORK POST" STATE EDITOR: It's a very ironic, this Cheney bill, now backed by democrats really can be credited to the vice president. It looks like it's go to become law and down the road it actually might save people's lives.
SNOW: Republican supports say despite the fact that the vice president's accident has nothing to do with the bill, they welcome the attention that is now predicted to turn this proposal into law. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SNOW: And the National Conference of State Legislature says to the best of its knowledge, New York is the only state with this kind of bill -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much for that. Mary Snow reporting.
Just ahead, it seems as if everyone has an opinion on the vice president's hunting accident and the fallout. We're listening to all sides; we'll let you hear what they're saying. All of that coming up. You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It's happening now, the internet burning up with news of the vice president's interview. We're going to take you online, all of that right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. From East to West, vice president Cheney's hunting accident and the way his office has handled the news are hot topics. CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now live from Los Angeles with details of what people are saying out there and beyond.
Chris, what's -- what are they saying?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we spoke with talk radio hosts, newspaper columnists, even when to an Internet cafe, it's hard to find anyone who has the same opinion of what the vice president has said and done.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Excerpts from the vice president's response went up instantly on the Internet but people had mixed reactions to Cheney admitting last weekend's shooting was all his fault.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it's very revealing that wasn't the first instinct, that wasn't his first to make such a broad statement. I think it's very telling that the first instinct was to put the spin machine into action. And there have been all the statements from the vice president's supporters trying to come up with dodgy ways of not supporting, trying to make it seem like it was a big deal whether clearly it was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His family and friend's family, they have their over personal -- they need their own personal time to work through what they're working through without all the media hype. They don't need all this extra pressure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's blown out of proportion because who did it. Otherwise, nobody would know about it.
LAWRENCE: "Los Angeles Times" columnist Steve Lopez went hunting himself to better empathize with the vice president.
STEVE LOPEZ, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": One thing I learned about when talking to other hunters. The only thing worse than getting shot is to shoot somebody. It's a little bit embarrassing. It's kind of hard to live down. You missed.
LAWRENCE: In San Francisco, conservative talk radio host Jeff Katz says his listeners are wondering why it's still a story.
JEFF KATZ, KNEW RADIO: The response I've heard is that it really is much ado about nothing. It was an accident. It wasn't as if the vice president went to do a drive-by in south Central.
LAWRENCE (on camera): Yeah, nothing close to that. But a lot of folks we talked to said if Vice President Cheney had given today's interview on Monday, this wouldn't be half the story it turned out to be. Wolf?
BLITZER: Thanks, Chris, very much. Here in Washington, many political figures still are perplexed by the vice president's initial handling of the hunting accident. I spoke with Republican Congressman Chris Shays earlier here in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHRIS SHAYS, (R) CT: It's like they don't learn. Obviously, this information is going to come out. So just let it come out. It had to be one of the worst days of his life. It had been to be terrible for him. And obviously, the individual he shot and everybody was there. But the information needs to be made public and made publicly quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now, our CNN contributor Paul Begala, he's a Democratic strategist and Terry Jeffrey, the editor of "Human Events."
Let me read to you a little excerpt from the vice president's interview today.
"Ultimately, I'm the guy that pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry Whittington. You can talk about all the other conditions that existed at the time. But that's the bottom line. It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy that pulled the trigger and shot my friend. It's a day I'll never forget."
You wanted him to come out and explain what happened. He now has. Did he do it right?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, he did it too late. This is now a completely different tact. And I frankly think it smells more like a strategy than a confession. When this began, the White House -- Scott McClellan at the briefing room told us it was all Harry Whittington's fault. They dumped on the poor man that got shot.
And then Vice President Cheney's spokeswoman said that the vice president behaved exactly right. He was not at all incautious, he did nothing wrong.
They also tell us, by the way, that only ten pellets hit Mr. Whittington. We now it's up to 150. And they told us there was no alcohol involved. Today in the interview Vice President Cheney walked away from all four of the things that his spokespeople had been saying for him.
Now, we know it wasn't Whittington's fault. That Mr. Cheney admits it was his fault. Which I had been saying all along. That up to 150 pellets, not 10 hit the man. And that there was alcohol involved. The vice president had been drinking.
BLITZER: Well, he said he had one beer during lunch.
BLITZER: That was several hours before the incident.
BEGALA: He had no business touching a gun with a beer.
BLITZER: Even one glass of beer?
BEGALA: Absolutely. I love to drinks and I love to hunt. I've never mixed them and I never will. Nobody I hunt does with either. I won't go in the field if I see somebody having a beer with lunch.
TERRY JEFFREY, "HUMAN EVENTS": First of all, I think it's a physical fact if the vice president had a beer at noon, by 5:30 it's completely metabolized. I think what's Paul is doing now is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, Wolf.
Look, I was critical of the vice president and the White House that they didn't come out immediately and lay out the facts. I think anybody that saw the vice president on tape today saw a guy who was honest, straightforward. He answered the questions. I know Brit Hume is on another network. I think Brit asked excellent questions. He walked him through it point by point by point. We got the key facts. We even got the full explanation of why he didn't immediately come forward. I think it's understandable. I think he made a mistake but I think people when they see the vice president are going to know this guy is telling the truth.
BEGALA: Why does he send his spoke spokespeople out to say he did nothing wrong and he wasn't drinking and it was all Whittington's fault? And then he comes out and says it was his fault. It's because -- At one time or another, their misleading us.
BLITZER: The initial explanation was from Katharine Armstrong who said the Mr. Whittington had not called out and announced his presence there.
BEGALA: And the vice president tonight said it was his request that Ms. Armstrong handle this. So she becomes a designated spokesperson. But set her aside, Scott McClellan said it was all Whittington's fault. Mr. Cheney's spokeswoman said he did nothing wrong. Now he's - why - and by the way, I don't believe the one beer thing, either. They just haven't told the truth from the beginning.
JEFFREY: Wait a minute. He's trying to make something of this, and it's just ridiculous. Miss Armstrong went out. She told her story. I believe she's telling the truth from her perspective. I defy anybody who watched the vice president and watched his demeanor and watch the way he answered the questions. And they were tough and direct questions from Brit Hume. And say this guy is not telling the full truth and this guy is not absolutely being honest.
BLITZER: Here's another exchange that he had. Cheney. "I thought that letting Armstrong tell the story," Katharine Armstrong, the hostess of the event, "made good sense because you can get as accurate a picture as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site which is the way it went out and I thought that was the right call." Question: "What do you think now?" Cheney: "I still do." Terry, he still believes the way they handled the explanation was the right way to do it.
JEFFREY: Well, he's wrong about that, Wolf. I think his explanation is understandable and believable. His judgment on how he had to get this out to the public on Saturday night and on Sunday morning is wrong. He should have immediately got information out there, let people know what's going on. He should have listened to the advice of smart people in the White House. It doesn't seem like he looked for smart counsel in the White House.
The vice president made a mistake there, no doubt about it, but I think he came out and told the whole truth. Answered tough questions. Answered them fully. And Paul Begala can continue to make this a story. I do not think this is a real story anymore. I think there are more important questions facing this country.
BEGAL: I'll tell you the question he didn't answer the one that Brit Hume didn't ask. And I disagree with you here. First off, let's be honest. Vice President Cheney went to Fox because it's a house organ for right wing Republicans. It's like Khrushchev giving an interview to "Pravda," it's their organ.
Hume never asked the vice president about why he didn't talk to law enforcement on the day of the event. He waited until the next day. Believe me, if I shot somebody, law enforcement would be on me. They would not give me day. If some kid shoots somebody in DC, do you think the cops wait for a day? Cheney has told us he that he was drinking. He says one beer. The pattern of misinformation and falsehoods is so great, that I think we are pretty skeptical about that. A lot of people would be skeptical.
But Hume never asked him, why didn't you talk to law enforcement as soon as it happened?
BLITZER: What about that? JEFFREY: Well, I think Paul has a good question there. But my take on the interview is that Hume in fact walked the vice president moment through moment through moment through the whole sequence of events on Saturday evening. There were a number of things that the vice president was concerned about, including notifying the children of this man. Notifying his spouse. Finding out the state of his physical condition at the time. He was transported to a hospital at a remote place. I can see where the guy's focus on all of those things and the immediate question, after all, this is a guy who has Secret Service around him who were in fact law enforcement officers. It's not as if there isn't law enforcement ...
BLITZER: There are a lot of Republicans out there, in fact, a couple of them have been in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Today, former Congressman J.C. Watts and Chris Shays, Republican congressman from Connecticut who still believe that Cheney should have a full scale news conference and answer questions from the White House press corps.
JEFFREY: There's no question that would be the best thing. We need to have a vice president who is capable of coming before the press and answering any question. I think that is the case and I think it was a good thing to come out and do what he did today. But I think he should answer questions of adversarial reporters. I'm confident that Cheney can answer them. And I think it would be the smart and correct thing for him to do it.
BLITZER: What do you think?
BEGALA: I think he acts like a man who thinks he's above the law and above any kind of accountability. He works for us. He works for every viewer of this show - domestic viewer. And he ought to be answering questions. Yet he has this arrogance about him that he doesn't have to talk to law enforcement and he doesn't have to talk to the American people, he doesn't have to answer tough questions. And it's going to hurt consistently, Terry.
JEFFREY: You know, Paul's my friend. As a conservative Republican I have to point out that when your administration was under investigation, yeah, congressional committees and grand juries, there were a great many people, Paul, you remember, who refused to testify.
BEGALA: No, I don't. Are you kidding? (inaudible) everybody.
JEFFREY: James Riati left the country and he never came back.
BEGALA: He didn't work for Bill Clinton or for me. He didn't work for the American people. I can't help what some ...
JEFFREY: Congress wanted his testimony.
BEGALA: You can try to dredge - I was waiting for that to make the Clinton scandal. Bill Clinton didn't shoot anybody.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, we got to leave it right there. But I was the White House correspondent when Hillary Clinton was coming under enormous in questions about Whitewater and other issues. I remember she had a full scale news conference at the White House. She wore pink, if you remember, to soften up her image a little bit. She did do that. A lot of pressure, I suspect, still going to be on Cheney to do the same thing.
BEGALA: And he would look good in pink. Better than a prison jumpsuit.
BLITZER: Paul Begala, thanks very much. Terry Jeffrey, thanks to you as well.
JEFFREY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: In his interview today, the vice president refused to discuss whether he told his former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby to leak secret information to justify the war in Iraq. According to documents for the prosecutor, Libby told the grand jury at that CIA leak was authorized to disclose information by superiors. The leak about information justifying the war, that is, authorized by superiors.
Cheney said today in the interview that there's an executive order that gives the vice president the authority to declassify information. But when asked whether he had done that, he said, "I don't want to get into that." You can see the entire transcript of the vice president's interview, by the way, go to cnn.com.
Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Internet is lighting up with news of the vice president's interview. We'll take a look at the situation online.
BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both faced it, the insatiable appetite of a media frenzy. Now, it's the vice president's return. Our national correspondent Bruce Morton reports there's nothing like a controversy to get the 24-hour news cycle spinning, and spinning, and spinning.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Feeding frenzy? You know it when you see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave her alone!
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
MORTON: How many stakeouts, how many cameras, how many times will we play the hug? Twenty bucks a play, one cynic said, and we could have cured cancer. They don't have to be in Washington. Remember the runaway bride, not kidnapped it turned out, just shy. But we kept covering it anyway. Often Washignton, though. Remember Congressman Gary Condit and the missing Chandra Levy.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I'm not a crook.
MORTON: Watergate, the longest frenzy, maybe, though Ken Starr and Monica ket theirs going a while, too.
And another sure sign, an official spokesman acting -- well, official. Watergate was a third rate burglary. Cheney ...
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Keep in mind, there's not a traveling press corps that was along with the vice president on this trip. And with that said, though, as I said, I think it's always as important to get information as quickly as possible.
MORTON: But official tempers can grow short.
MCCLELLAN: If you all want to spend time on it, that's fine. This administration is focused on doing what the American people want us to do. And that's to address the biggest priorities facing this country.
MORTON: Do feeding frenzies matters? Does this one matter?
STUART ROTHENBURG, "ROTHENBURG REPORT": Well, I don't think this is going to change any votes in the November '06 midterm elections but it's another headache. Another embarrassment for an administration that's already had too many and doesn't need another one.
MORTON: True it won't affect Bush directly and he can't run again anyway and it won't affect Cheney who has said often he is not running for president. But it is a fuss, a frenzy if you will, that the Republicans could have done without. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Let's go right to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner, she's getting some immediate online to the vice president's interview. Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Wolf, it is early reaction online but a lot of conservative bloggers are hoping this will be the end of the story now that Dick Cheney has come out and accepted responsibility for what took place in Texas. There are a lot who say the explanation for why he waited is quite understandable. But there's others that this isn't washing with.
Andrew Sullivan, for example, is saying he doesn't understand why he just didn't come out and tell the press what happened. As for accuracy, it's up to the press to then dig into the facts.
There are others who are calling the whole thing bizarre wondering why it is that Dick Cheney didn't listen to the White House in general when they wanted it to come out sooner. And there's also others talking about the fact that the media is just upset that he went to a small paper as opposed to the national press, pointing out that Cheney actually didn't go to anyone himself at all, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. There will be a lot more reaction online, Jacki.
Up next, China, censorship and the Internet, we'll find out how Google and Yahoo! are facing some tough questions.
And how will the shooting incident affect Vice President Cheney's legacy? It's our question of the hour, Jack Cafferty standing by your email. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Yahoo! Google and Microsoft are among the companies now in the sights of the United States Congress. Lawmakers are grilling the search engines on how they conduct business in China. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has the story. Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Google was one of four U.S. based Internet companies to appear before a House committee today. Google has recently come under fire for its new Chinese version of its search engine. It filters content on the Chinese version. Let's take a look at how it works.
If you is search on "Tiananmen Square" on the U.S. version or the regular version, you get about 2 million hits. If you do it on the Chinese version, you get about 13,000 hits there is because the content has been filtered. Google said today that it does provide some transparency in notifying Chinese users that the content has been filtered. . Yahoo! was also appearing today, they've come under fire recently for providing information to the users of the Chinese government. Yahoo! said today that they have to comply with local laws and don't have the leverage to influence world governments. The chair of the committee is Congressman Chris Smith. He plans to introduce legislation soon on this very issue, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula Zahn is standing by in New York. Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Thanks so much. Coming up in just about eight minutes, I'll be asking Democrat Senator Charles Schumer if he's satisfied with the answers that Dick Cheney is finally giving about the hunting accident. And we're also going to take a look at the unexpected fallout about some of the most popular shows on TV. Our question tonight, is "CSI", the very popular show, making criminals smarter or are they outsmarting the folks investigating them and what are the chances that you'll live at least another four years? There's a simple test you can take. You can take it right along with us tonight, please join us at the top of the hour for more details.
Wolf, I want to you take this test.
BLITZER: I hope we all live for many, many more years. Not just four. ZAHN: Hey, Wolf no cheating on the height and weight. I already tried that. And they caught me.
BLITZER: Thanks, Paula, for that.
Markets react as the new Fed chairman testifies before the U.S. Congress for the first time. Carol Lin is live at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She has the bottom line. Carol?
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Ben Bernanke made his Capitol Hill debut sounding much like his predecessor Alan Greenspan. Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee the economy is in good shape. But he indicated the Fed is likely to raise interest rates to keep inflation in check.
Now, analysts expect a quarter point hike when the Feds meet at the end of march. It would be the 14th consecutive increase in interest rates.
Now, Wall Street apparently like what it heard from Bernanke. Stocks climbed on his remarks but fell later only to rally on news of falling oil prices. The Dow, NASDAQ and the S&P all ended the day in positive territory.
And Wolf, listen to this. One of the contestants from the just finished Westminster dog show is missing. New York Port Authority officials there say that the dog, whippet, somehow got out of its cage at around noon at Kennedy airport. They say they are searching the entire facility along with the dog's owners and Delta Airlines. Now, WABC in New York reports at that pup is worth a whopping $150,000. And that truly is, Wolf, the bottom line.
BLITZER: And what's a whippet. I never saw a whippet before. That's quite a little dog. I hope they find that dog and find that dog quickly. Thanks Carol, very much.
Still ahead, how will the hunting accident affect the vice president's legacy? Jack Cafferty has been going through your emails. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Here's a quick look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Karachi, Pakistan, fiery protests over Danish cartoons. More than 70,000 demonstrated today. Burning a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a movie theater and a South Korean-run bus station.
Charleston, South Carolina. John Gates Memorial Bridge blown up. It was closed last summer after a new one opened up.
Austria, a dead swan is pulled out of the water near a power plant. Two swans found near the same spot reportedly have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. Rio de Janeiro, they're getting ready for the Stones, the Rolling Stones. They'll be playing a free concert at Copacabana Beach next Saturday. Two million people expected to show up. Some of today's hot shots. Pictures often worth a thousand words.
Jack Cafferty is back in New York with the "Cafferty File." I don't think you'll be at that Stones concert in Copacabana?
CAFFERTY: No. I won't. That looked a little like the lead singer from Kiss, too, right, remember that guy with the three-foot long tongue?
BLITZER: Yeah, I remember him.
CAFFERTY: The question is -- how will the shooting incident affect Vice President Cheney's legacy. He has been a player in Washington for four decades, all the way back to the Nixon administration. He was chief of staff for Gerald Ford, the youngest one ever. He was secretary of defense. So we're kind of wondering what sort of lasting stain, if that's what you want to call it, this will have.
Jane in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. "Legacy? You're kidding, right? The only thing Cheney will leave behind is the legacy of a vice president who never fought for his country and sent soldiers off to fight a war based on lies. Secrecy and dishonesty are his trademarks."
Lisa in Telford, Pennsylvania. "The shooting incident will have no effect whatsoever on the vice president's legacy. The mainstream media is foaming at the mouth over this, but we the American people are not. Non story, Jack."
Jane in Brevard, North Carolina, "The shooting incident will do for Dick Cheney what a certain UN speech did for Colin Powell. On the bright side, maybe President Bush will give him a medal to ease the sting of the peppering he is taking."
Charlie writes from Montreal, Quebec. "Remember Aaron Burr's extensive political career? No? Neither does anyone else. It's amazing what one little shooting can do to your legacy."
Courtney writes this, "I think Cheney's legacy will be a fowl one. Sorry, I couldn't help it," she says. "If he continues pandering to propaganda channels like the F-word network rather than actual news networks he will definitely fall even farther out of favor with those who prefer information to promotion."
And finally Gabriela in Brookline, Massachusetts writes, "What legacy? Cheney will be one of those crazy historical vice presidential historical footnotes. Like the incident with Alexander Hamilton. Under Cheney's picture it will say, 'This is the portly secretive Darth Vader dude who mistook his friend for a quail.'"
BLITZER: When I heard Sunday afternoon that he shot someone, I thought people were joking. I couldn't believe that. What was your immediate reaction? CAFFERTY: Stunning. And of course we didn't know the extent this man was injured. I hunted a lot when I was a kid and these things one in a while happen. You just don't expect it to involve the vice president of the United States, I guess. That was the surprising part to me.
BLITZER: Jack, I'll see you tomorrow right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Don't forget. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's head over to Paula Zahn in New York right now. Paula?
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