The White House has another "delay" scandal.
No, not Tom DeLay, the buddy of President Bush and former House majority leader indicted for illegal use of campaign funds.
And not that abysmally late rescue effort for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
This one is even more bizarre.
For more than 18 hours this weekend, the White House hid from the public the astounding news that Vice President "Dead-Eye" Dick Cheney had shot someone.
Cheney's accidental bird-shot blast at 78-year-old millionaire lawyer Harry Whittington occurred Saturday around 5:30 p.m., while the two men were part of a quail hunting excursion at a south Texas ranch.
Initial word of the incident, however, didn't come until Sunday morning when a reporter for the local Corpus Christi Caller-Times got a phone call from Katherine Armstrong, an eyewitness and owner of the ranch where the accident took place.
The Caller-Times immediately called the White House, which finally got around to confirming the shooting.
Cheney's obsession with secrecy has long been the stuff of Washington legend.
But why deliberately withhold the bombshell news of a hunting accident involving him? And why release the information through a private citizen's call to a small local paper?
"The vice president felt that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to go out there and provide that information to the public," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday during a Washington press briefing.
Since when does the massive White House spin machine permit a little-known South Texas rancher to give vice presidential press briefings?
McClellan said yesterday he did not even learn the vice president had been the shooter until Sunday morning.
Even the normally docile Washington press corps wasn't buying that line. Angry reporters repeatedly demanded to know exactly when Bush learned about Cheney's errant shot.
Later in the day, the White House revealed that deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was the first to know. Rove spoke by phone with Armstrong on Saturday evening, then informed Bush around 8 p.m. of the vice president's role.
In other words, both Bush and Rove knew the essential details within hours of the incident, yet the White House kept things quiet until the next day.
At yesterday's briefing, McClellan repeatedly referred further questions to Cheney's office, and late in the day the information dribbled out that Cheney hadn't bothered to pay for the proper permit to go bird hunting in Texas.
Local sheriffs in Kenedy County reportedly complained that Secret Service agents prevented them from talking to the vice president immediately after the incident.
The Secret Service, on the other hand, says that it reported the shooting to the sheriff's office an hour after it happened, and that Cheney eventually did talk to local authorities.
The Cheney interview, like so much of this story, was delayed until Sunday morning.
Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 Daily News, LP