McCain to Letterman: 'I Screwed Up'

ABC News' Jan Simmonds reports: "I screwed up," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told David Letterman this afternoon as he taped an appearance on Letterman's CBS program, "The Late Show," explaining his cancellation a few weeks ago. McCain originally was scheduled to appear on Letterman's late night talk show on Sept. 24, but canceled after he announced the suspension of his campaign to focus on the nation's troubled economy.

At the time, McCain said he needed to return to Washington to help bring forth legislation to address the Wall Street meltdown. But that evening, McCain ended up staying in New York for several more hours including agreeing to an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric.

After the presidential candidate sat down at the taping, Letterman jokingly asked, "Can you stay?" McCain replied that he had asked his son, who is serving overseas, if he could send over his helmet and flap jacket, but it  "didn't arrive on time." So, what exactly happened?" asked Letterman, who has made McCain’s cancellation a running joke on his program since it occurred. "I screwed up," McCain said. "Look at all the conversation I gave you."

Letterman, not satisfied, pressed the issue further, saying when McCain canceled, he told him he had to go right back to Washington, "but then you didn't go right back to Washington." Again McCain implored, "I screwed up. It's only Dave Letterman, there is only a few million people who will be watching,"McCain joked, referring to the advice he was given from his advisers.

Several other subjects were covered over the three-segment interview scheduled to air Thursday evening, including:

Joe the Plumber, Governor Sarah Palin, R-Alaska., and her comments about Barack Obama "palling with terrorists."

On Joe the Plumber, McCain took the opportunity to apologize for the media circus he had a hand in causing since last night's debate. "Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry," said McCain. "From what I read he is taking it pretty well," he later added.

Discussing his choice of Palin as his running mate, the Arizona senator said she was "absolutely" his first choice for vice president. He went on to say that he "didn't know her well at all" at the time he decided on her, but added he was familiar with her reputation as a reformer. When Letterman asked if Palin was ready to become president if events forced that to occur, McCain emphatically answered, "yes."

The comedian host also mentioned that the selection has been criticized and wondered if McCain had been approached by staffers or members of his party to drop Palin from the ticket. Again, McCain answered emphatic, saying "no."

When Letterman jokingly asked whether Palin really did make the comments that Obama had "palled around with terrorists," McCain initially said "no" (she didn’t say Obama palled around with terrorists), but quickly caught himself and corrected his statement in midsentence, saying "yes," making note of Obama's relationship with William Ayers.

Letterman followed up this question asking if McCain was friends with G. Gordon Liddy, apparently hinting that one of the masterminds of the Watergate break-in could also be described as a terrorist. Asking whether he attended a fundraiser at his house, McCain said, "I've met him," but laughter ensued, followed by "I object, your honor," screamed off-camera from Paul Shaffer, Letterman's band leader. The show then went to commercial break after which the subject was dropped.

After weeks of making McCain the butt of jokes for not appearing on his program, the two seemed to get along quite well. When the interview ended and Letterman thanked McCain, the senator seemed anxious to leave, half-standing up before sitting down again. The cameras then went to commercial.

McCain then left the studio, ahead of the Alfred E. Smith dinner he is scheduled to attend tonight along with Senator Barack Obama, being held in New York City.

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