Letterman confronts McCain on Liddy

LETTERMAN CONFRONTS MCCAIN ON LIDDY…. John McCain recently annoyed David Letterman quite a bit, blowing off a scheduled interview to talk to Katie Couric. The “Late Show” host has been mocking McCain, rather mercilessly, ever since.

Hoping to make amends, McCain appeared on Letterman’s show, hat in hand, and acknowledged that he’d erred. As it turns out, though, that’s not the interesting part. The real news here is that Letterman did what most reporters have been unwilling to do.

Questioning the premise of McCain’s relentless guilt-by-association attacks, Letterman noted that people in public life can’t necessarily be held accountable for everyone they’ve interacted with. When McCain protested a bit, Letterman asked two highly relevant questions: “Did you not have a relationship with Gordon Liddy?” and “Did you attend a fundraiser at his house?” McCain, looking confused, conceded to having “met” Liddy. After a commercial break, McCain added, “I know Gordon Liddy. He paid his debt, he went to prison…. I’m not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy.”

That’s an interesting response. Liddy is, of course, a convicted felon who has “acknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in ‘if necessary’; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a ‘gangland figure’ to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap ‘leftist guerillas’ at the 1972 Republican National Convention — a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis.” Liddy also once famously gave his supporters advice on how best to kill federal officials (he recommended shooting them in the head because they might be wearing flak jackets).

Despite this scandalous past, McCain has accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from Liddy, attended a fundraiser in his honor at Liddy’s home, and told Liddy that he’s “proud of” him.

Also remember, Liddy can be fairly described as “unrepentant.” When asked if he regretted his felonies, “A vein twitches angrily on one of his scales, but he replies in a level voice, ‘No.'”

As of last night, McCain is “not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy.” I have a follow-up question: Why not? And one more: what does it say about McCain’s character that he pals around with an unrepentant convicted felon who’s talked openly about killing federal officials?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.