Former NBC host Billy Bush has spoken publicly for the first time in more than seven months about the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which President Donald Trump bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women.
In an exclusive interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bush said he regretted not changing the topic as Trump talked about grabbing women by the genitals. Instead, Bush laughed and egged him on.
"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, provided to the Washington Post in October, captured audio of Trump and Bush, who hosted Access Hollywood at the time, riding on a bus on the way to a soap opera set and discussing Trump's attempts to seduce women. Less than two weeks after it leaked, 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.
Bush told the Hollywood Reporter he has only seen the tape three times: once just a few days before it was leaked and twice more before the Hollywood Reporter interview. Every time, he said, he felt "totally and completely gutted."
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 could 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 de-board 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: "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait."
"And when you're a star, they let you do it," Trump says. "You can do anything."
"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: "Obviously I'm embarrassed and ashamed. It's no excuse, but this happened eleven years ago - I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along. I'm very sorry."
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 when the tape leaked his 15-year-old daughter called him in tears from boarding school and asked him why he had laughed at the things Trump said on the bus.
"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."
He said he didn't think the backlash would be so severe when the tape leaked.
"So in the beginning, I thought, 'OK, we'll go and own up to this moment,'" Bush recalled. "Then I got home, and it started to become apparent that (I) would not be returning. It hurt a lot, and I fell apart."
Bush said he had no interest in asking Trump if he was remorseful about what happened.
"There is nothing I need from him," Bush said.