“I wish I had changed the topic… But I didn’t have the strength of character to do it.”
Last October, in the heat of the presidential election, an old 2005 Access Hollywood tape surfaced of then-host Billy Bush chatting off camera with Donald Trump. The men mistakenly thought their mics were off. But the entire conversation was caught on tape and was nothing short of disgusting.
On the now-infamous tape, Trump is heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. Trump told Bush that he could kiss women against their will and even “grab ’em by the pussy” because he was famous. Bush did not stop the vile conversation; but instead, he just nervously laughed along as Trump boasted.
The tape’s release resulted in Billy Bush being fired from NBC’s The Today Show. And the pig who sexually assaulted countless women? He became president.
Now 7 months later, Bush is finally breaking his silence about the ordeal in a new Hollywood Reporter interview.
Here’s a portion of the transcript from that interview….
You have three daughters. How did you explain all of this to them?
My [then] 15-year-old, Mary, called me from boarding school, and she was in tears: “Dad, Dad, Dad,” and I said, “Everything is going to be fine, Mary. Everything’s going to be OK.” It’s just instinctively what you say to your daughter. And she said, “No, why were you laughing at the things that he was saying on that bus, Dad? They weren’t funny.” It hit really hard, and I stopped for a second, and I said, “I have no answer for that that’s any good. I am really sorry. That was Dad in a bad moment a long time ago. You know me. I am really sorry that you had to hear and see that. I love you.” She needed to hear that, and I certainly needed to tell her that.
How would you describe the past seven and a half months? What have you been doing?
It’s been a roller coaster. If you start from the day everything happened, Friday, Oct. 7, it was just instant shock. Things were happening way too fast, and a media circus developed. I’ve never been the type that the paparazzi would be interested in. So that early part was just chaos. But then things progressed; and when you have a big, traumatic event, you go through stages, and it led to acceptance and understanding. And then I found myself in a place of soul searching. And I developed a commitment to become a better, fuller man.
When that tape was first leaked, how did you think the situation was going to play out?
I thought that we would work through it and we would address people. I put together an apology right away, the one you saw; I told people that I was ashamed and embarrassed. And I was. So in the beginning, I thought, “OK, we’ll go and own up to this moment.” Then I got home, and it started to become apparent that [I] would not be returning [to Today]. It hurt a lot, and I fell apart. But I had to put aside those feelings and get through legal things. I never had a legal team; I had never had a publicist before.”
What would you have said if NBC had given you the opportunity to appear on Today that Monday?
I would have said, “I am deeply embarrassed. I sit before you every morning, and I have on a different show [Access Hollywood Live] many mornings, and I hope you know the person you’re looking at and have developed an opinion about is [the real me]. You aren’t wrong about that. I am ashamed. Going forward, you can be sure that I will not participate in anything like that. And I will keep my eyes out and do what I can to stop it from happening.”
You got fired, and the other guy on that tape became president. How does that make you feel?
I will admit the irony is glaring. [Trump] has his process for his participation [in the tape], and I have mine. I had to turn this into a positive. Robin Roberts’ mother has this quote, “Make your mess your message.” And so I have that opportunity. I’ve come out of this with a deeper understanding of how women can connect to the feeling of having to fight extra hard for an even playing field. The ground isn’t even. Maybe it’s improving, but still it isn’t even. When a woman watches that tape — and this is what really hit me — they may be asking themselves, “Is that what happens when I walk out of a room? When I walk out of a meeting, is that what they’re saying about me? Are they sizing me up?” I can’t live with that. If a moment like that arose again, I would shut it down quickly. I am in the women-raising business, exclusively. I have three daughters — Mary, Lillie, Josie — and I care very much about the world and the people they encounter.
Take us back to your days at Access Hollywood when this happened. How important was Trump to the show?
It was 2005, the second season of The Apprentice. The first season ended with 44 million viewers watching. It was a bona fide television phenomenon. So he was the biggest star, not just on the network with which Access Hollywood is affiliated but on TV, period. And so I spent a lot of time with Trump. He was my main assignment. He was the core of my job for a period of time there, because if we could get him three times a week in exclusive-type situations, he was always going to say something that was headline-worthy. And Access Hollywood was certainly interested in that. So that was my job, and I did it well. I got access to Trump. And in my job, there’s a lot of downtime, and there are off-camera moments where you have a short period of time to, in a way, connect with people. If it’s Martha Stewart, I would tell her about the new organic garden that I just started growing in my backyard.
And with Trump?
With Donald, there wasn’t much interaction. He sort of talks and performs, and everybody reacts. And the topics were usually golf, gossip or women. And boy, do I wish this was a golf day. But I always had a nervous energy through these situations because he also decided a lot of times from day to day, moment to moment, who he liked, who was in and who was out, and my job was to remain in. I needed to be in, or maybe I’d be out. So that was the Trump environment. Looking back on what was said on that bus, I wish I had changed the topic. I wish I had said: “Does anyone want water?” or “It looks like it’s gonna rain.” He liked TV and competition. I could’ve said, “Can you believe the ratings on whatever?” I didn’t have the strength of character to do it.
Had you heard him speak like that about women before?
I don’t recall anything to that degree. But he’s a provocateur. Shocking statements flow like wine from him. And he likes to captivate an audience.
Trump chalked it up to “locker-room banter.” Is that a fair characterization?
No. I’m in a lot of locker rooms, I am an athlete, and no, that is not the type of conversation that goes on or that I’ve participated in.
So is that seriously how Trump approaches women?
I felt that, in that moment, he was being typically Donald, which is performing and shocking. Almost like Andrew Dice Clay, the stand-up comedian: Does he really do the things that he’s saying or is that his act? And in Donald’s case, I equated it that way. When he said what he said, I’d like to think if I had thought for a minute that there was a grown man detailing his sexual assault strategy to me, I’d have called the FBI.
You clearly are remorseful. Do you think Trump regrets it?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Have you reached out to Nancy O’Dell, your co-host on Access at the time and about whom the lewd comments were focused?
I recently sent her a communication, yeah. I need to keep that between me and Nancy. [Bush declined to say whether O’Dell responded.]
Let’s say Trump sees this interview and he calls you. What would you say to him?
I don’t know. I guess if the president of the United States calls, you take the call. I would listen and say thank you.
Would you ask if he was remorseful about the situation?
Conduct a little private interview? No. I’d just say thanks and move on. There is nothing I need from him.