In his first interview since being fired from NBC for his role in a grotesque 2005 off-camera chat with Donald Trump, Billy Bush told the Hollywood Reporter, "Looking back upon what was said on that bus, 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."
An audio recording of the hot mic exchange, in which Bush was interviewing Trump for Access Hollywood, emerged last October. Trump, an NBC star for The Apprentice, was doing a guest appearance on Days of Our Lives, and during a break between filming, Trump told Bush, "You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet... And when you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy."
On the now-infamous tape, Bush's response is to laugh jovially.
During that exchange, Trump also brags about trying to "f---" Bush's colleague Nancy O'Dell ("I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married... Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look") to which Bush gushes, "That's huge news!" When Bush notices the Days actress, Arianne Zucker, waiting for Trump outside the bus, he exclaims that she's "hot as s--t. In the purple. Whoa, the Donald is good! Whoa, my man!... The Donald scores!"
Bush, who was about to join the Today Show as an anchor, was suspended and later terminated. He said that when his 15-year-old daughter heard the tape, she was crying. Bush told Good Morning America, "She was really upset, and I said, 'Mary, it's, it's, going to be OK. You know, don't worry. And she said, 'No. Why were you laughing at the things that he was saying on that bus? Why were you playing along with it, Dad? It wasn't funny.' I said, 'Mary, I am sorry. And there is no good answer for that."
Since his ignominious retreat from public life, the Hollywood Reporter describes Bush's life:
The HR also asked, "Had you heard [Trump] speak like that about women before?" and Bush said, "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."
Engaged in a lot of soul searching, a process that included time walking on fiery coals with spiritual guru Tony Robbins and a stint at a Napa Valley healing retreat. He took up yoga and meditation, developed a boxing routine and read books like 10% Happier, written by ABC News anchor and buddy Dan Harris. Bush, the nephew of President George H.W. Bush, also spent more time than he had in years with his family, including daughters Lillie, 12, Mary, 16, and Josie, 18. "It was fun to have his undivided attention," says his older brother, Jonathan. "There was no rushing off to do this or that." He's also stayed in contact with his former Today colleagues; he recently saw Hoda Kotb and her baby and was invited to lunch with Matt Lauer.
Bush also doesn't think Trump treats women that way: "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."
And when asked if he thought it was "locker-room banter," as Trump claimed it was, Bush said, "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."