Former NBC host Billy Bush says he has done a lot of soul searching in the past seven months.
He has walked across hot coals with self-help guru Tony Robbins, of infomercial fame. He has taken part in a healing retreat in Napa Valley, cut off from the outside world. He has learned yoga and meditation, started reading motivational books, and spent quality time with his wife and three teenage daughters.
And perhaps more than anything, he has thought long and hard about his 2005 conversation with President Trump in the back of an “Access Hollywood” bus.
In an interview published Sunday in the Hollywood Reporter, Bush opened up for the first time since last fall about the now infamous exchange, in which Trump was caught on a hot microphone bragging about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women.
“Looking back upon what was said on that bus,” Bush said, “I wish I had changed the topic. [Trump] liked TV and competition. I could’ve said, ‘Can you believe the ratings on whatever?’ But I didn’t have the strength of character to do it.”
The 2005 tape was provided exclusively to The Washington Post and published in early October. It captured audio of Trump and Bush riding on a bus on the way to a soap opera set and discussing Trump’s attempts to seduce women, as well as video once they emerged to shoot a segment.
Bush, who hosted “Access Hollywood” at the time the recording was made, laughed and egged Trump on as he talked about grabbing women by the genitals.
Less than two weeks after the tape surfaced, Bush was suspended and then fired from NBC’s “Today,” with a multimillion-dollar severance package and a nondisclosure agreement preventing him from talking in detail about his ouster.
Trump apologized and dismissed the conversation as “locker-room banter.”
Bush said he has only seen the tape three times: once just a few days before it was made public and twice more before his Hollywood Reporter interview. Every time, he said, it “totally and completely gutted” him.
The Hollywood Reporter asked how it felt that Bush got fired over the tape while Trump became president.
“I will admit that the irony is glaring,” Bush said.
“When a woman watches that tape,” he added, “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.”
In the tape, Bush and Trump can be heard commenting about actress Arianne Zucker. She was waiting to escort them onto the soap opera set.
“Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple,” says Bush.
“Woah!” Trump says. “Woah!”
“Yes! The Donald has scored,” Bush says before commenting on Zucker’s legs.
As the men prepared to get off the bus, Trump made the comment that came to define the last month of the campaign and inspire rallying cries from women’s rights organizations.
“I just start kissing them,” Trump says. “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”
“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.
“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says.
They eventually exit the bus and greet Zucker, who is unaware of the conversation that had just taken place.
“How about a little hug for the Donald?” Bush says. “He just got off the bus.”
Bush issued a statement the same day the tape went public, saying he was embarrassed and ashamed of the more than decade-old conversation.
About 10 days later, NBC wrote a memo to staff that Bush was “leaving” the “Today” show. Senior Vice President Noah Oppenheim called him a “valued colleague and longtime member of the broader NBC family.”
Bush told the Hollywood Reporter that covering Trump was one of his main assignments at “Access Hollywood.” The show tried to score interviews with Trump three times a week, knowing that segments about him would get viewers’ attention, he said.
“That was my job, and I did it well,” Bush said. “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 chameleonlike way, connect with people.”
Trump probably didn’t know he was being recorded on the bus in 2005, according to Bush. He compared Trump to the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, saying he’d heard him say shocking things but never anything so extreme up to that point.
Bush told the Hollywood Reporter: “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.”
When the tape surfaced Bush’s then-15-year-old daughter called him in tears from boarding school asking why he had laughed at Trump’s remarks.
“It hit really hard,” Bush said, “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.”
Bush said he had the same conversation with his 12- and 18-year-old daughters as well. His wife, he said, was “supportive from the very beginning.”
After he was fired, Bush said he became “depressed, bloated and miserable.” So at the beginning of the year he enrolled in a weeklong, $5,000 healing program in Napa Valley. Part of the group therapy, he said, involved kneeling before a baseball bat and a pillow and “literally bashing these negative patterns that you’ve identified in your life.”
He also attended a Tony Robbins seminar at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, where Robbins singled him out in an audience of 9,000 people. At one point, he said, they walked over 2,200-degree coals together.
Bush is now plotting a return to television, saying he has changed in a way that made him better at his job.
As for Trump, Bush said he has no interest in asking the president if he is remorseful about what happened. If Trump called, he told the Hollywood Reporter, they wouldn’t have much to discuss.
“I’d just say thanks and move on,” Bush said. “There is nothing I need from him.”
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