Seven months after Billy Bush's career – and nearly Donald Trump's presidential campaign – was derailed by the infamous Access Hollywood tape, the former Today host opened up about the "grab them by the pussy" recording, its aftermath and his next move.
"Looking back upon what was said on that bus, I wish I had changed the topic. [Trump] liked TV and competition," Bush told The Hollywood Reporter in an extensive interview, his first since the tape leaked in October. "I could've said, 'Can you believe the ratings on whatever?' But I didn't have the strength of character to do it."
Asked about the 2005 tape, Bush talked about how his main assignment for Access Hollywood at the time was covering Trump multiple times a week, since The Apprentice was among the biggest shows on TV and Trump, the self-promoter, always granted access to the program. Between shoots, there was plenty of downtime, which resulted in the moment captured on the infamous tape.
"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," Bush said in retrospect of the day that yielded the controversial tape. "He's a provocateur. Shocking statements flow like wine from him. And he likes to captivate an audience."
Bush added, "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."
Although Bush didn't say anything overtly vulgar on the leaked tape, he was treated as an accessory after the fact: Despite issuing an apology, Bush was immediately suspended from NBC's Today and ultimately canned from the morning show he had recently joined. Trump, meanwhile, hastily made a video apology and eventually became president.
Bush regrets he wasn't given an opportunity to publicly apologize on Today. "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," Bush said.
"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."
In the time since the scandal, Bush has refocused on a lot of "soul-searching," which included sessions with motivational guru Tony Robbins, yoga, meditation and a healing retreat, as well as time spent with his family. The former Today correspondent added that, "I plan to return to the job that I love."