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Cheney's hunting host lobbied White House

Katharine Armstrong, whose family owns the ranch where Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner, is a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the White House, according to records.

Armstrong told NBC News in a telephone interview that she has never directly lobbied Cheney as far as she remembers.

"Never!" she said. And she says she does not remember directly lobbying the president himself either.

Armstrong was playing host to Cheney and to attorney Harry Whittington at her 50,000-acre spread 60 miles south of Corpus Christi when Cheney accidentally shot Whittington on Saturday. The White House did not immediately release news of the incident, but Armstrong said she told Cheney on Sunday morning that she was going to inform the local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She said he agreed, and the newspaper reported it on its Web site Sunday afternoon.

A statement issued Monday by Kenedy County (Texas) Sheriff Gilbert San Miguel, who interviewed Cheney after the hunting accident, said that alcohol was not a factor in the shooting. "The investigation reveals that there was no alcohol, or misconduct involved in the incident," the sheriff said.

‘No comment’ on blood test
At a news conference Wednesday outside Whittington’s hospital in Corpus Christi, reporters asked hospital officials whether Whittington’s blood-alcohol level had been tested. The officials responded with a "no comment."

In a recorded, on-the-record phone call with NBC News, Armstrong said that beer may have been available at lunch that day. "If someone wants to help themselves to a beer," she said, "they may, but I did not see anyone do that," Armstrong says. She says she was not sure if there were beers in the coolers but wasn't ready to rule it out: "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting," she told NBC News.

Armstrong added that she did not believe that Cheney or anyone else shooting in the hunting party had alcohol on Saturday before the hunting accident.

NBC News called the vice president’s office for comment four times Tuesday and Wednesday and asked whether the vice president or anyone in the hunting party had consumed any alcohol on Saturday prior to the accident. In an e-mail statement Wednesday to NBC News, the vice president’s press secretary referred NBC News to the Kenedy County Sheriff’s Department report on the incident. Later in the day on Fox News, Brit Hume stated that Cheney told him during a taped interview that he had had "a beer at lunch" before the hunting incident.

Armstrong was paid $160,000 in 2004 by the powerful legal firm Baker Botts to lobby the White House, according to records she filed with the U.S. Senate as required by lobbying disclosure rules. The records indicate she was paid the money after she "communicated with the White House on behalf of Baker Botts clients."

Won't reveal client's name
In a phone interview, she told NBC News that in return for the money in one case, she set up a meeting at the White House for a Baker Botts client, although she said she felt she could not release the client’s name.

"A meeting for doing something with one of their clients," she said, describing the event. "I’m not at liberty to say which." She says she cannot remember which White House official the meeting was with. She also said that during the inauguration proceedings, she got Karl Rove to speak at a Baker Botts function. "I got them Karl Rove," she said.

Records indicate that early in 2005 she ended her dealings with Baker Botts.

In a subsequent interview, Armstrong told NBC News that Baker Botts asked her not to discuss what she did for the firm. Reached late Tuesday afternoon, Baker Botts had no comment on the story.

Records also indicate that early the same year she ended her lobbying relationship with another firm, Prionics, which had paid her to "work with the administration," on issues related to mad cow disease.

Bush shot at ranch while governor
Armstrong also told NBC News that while George W. Bush did shoot at her ranch while he was Texas governor, she has never hosted him while he was president.

Armstrong said the shooting accident happened toward the end of the hunt on Saturday, when it was still sunny but as darkness was encroaching and they were preparing to go inside. She said Whittington made a mistake by not announcing that he had walked up to rejoin the hunting line, and Cheney didn’t see him as he tried to down a bird.

Armstrong said she saw Cheney’s security detail running toward the scene. "The first thing that crossed my mind was he had a heart problem," she told The Associated Press.