By Tony Russell


Washington, DC, Feb. 16 -

Visibly angered, White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded "No comment" to a reporter's inquiry about rumors that prominent Republican attorney Harry Whittington may have been wounded by friendly fire.

Questions about the incident have arisen just four days after the White House held a special Sunday press conference to announce that Whittington and Vice President Dick Cheney had been ambushed by "a large force of illegal aliens" while on routine patrol early Saturday evening at a ranch in Texas owned by wealthy Republican lobbyist Katharine Armstrong.

According to press releases distributed at the earlier conference, the Land Rover in which Cheney and Whittington were riding was disabled by a mortar round during the attack, and Whittington was wounded in numerous parts of his body by shrapnel.

In complete disregard of his own safety, the releases said, Cheney pulled Whittington from the burning vehicle, dragged him to the shelter of a nearby golf bunker while under heavy fire, commandeered an unarmored golf cart, and raced for help.

"Vice President Cheney's quick action and courage under fire no doubt saved Harry Whittington's life," McClellan had said on Sunday. "He is a true American hero. As with Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman before him, his story is a reminder that this administration will stop at nothing in its efforts to win the global war against terrorism."

"The President and Vice President have both sworn that they will work tirelessly to defeat terrorism. They will not rest until that war is won and Osama bin Laden is brought to justice for his role in the scurrilous attack on September 11," McClellan had added. "Vice President Cheney's patrol in Texas demonstrates his desire to share the risks and dangers of our brave forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and—we anticipate—in Iran. And maybe Syria."

Cheney's exploits at the Armstrong ranch had promised to put quietus, once and for all, to accusations that he was a "chicken hawk" for seeking and receiving a reported five separate deferments to avoid military service during the Vietnam era. Critics had charged that Cheney—an avid duck, quail, pheasant, and dove hunter—only enjoyed shooting at things that couldn't shoot back.

On Sunday, looking tanned and fit after his most recent month-long vacation patrol in Texas, President Bush had basked in the reflected glory of his Vice President's derring-do. "This is the Dick Cheney I've always known and admired," said the President, "a man I want by my side when the going gets tough."

Harry Whittington, who had been at the Vice President's side on Saturday evening, was unavailable for comment.

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