Billy Bush Says 'Access Hollywood' Trump Tape Was "Weaponized"
"I got taken out, but I wasn't the target," the new 'Extra' host told Gayle King of his role in the 2016 scandal involving then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in a clip from their interview for 'CBS This Morning.'
As he makes his return to television as host of Extra, Billy Bush is once again speaking about the infamous Access Hollywood tape with then-Apprentice host Donald Trump in which the man who would be president is heard bragging about grabbing women "by the pussy."
In a sit-down with Gayle King that aired, in part, on Monday's CBS This Morning, Bush said that he wasn't prepared for the controversy around the video when the 2005 recording surfaced in 2016 because it happened so quickly. He added that "everyone" at NBC was aware of the tape before it was released.
"I was comfortable that it wasn't going to be weaponized," he said, before saying that he feels like that's how the tape was used. "I got taken out, but I wasn't the target."
The television host revealed that he wasn't concerned about how the tape would impact his career after its initial release. "I was told, 'You're good. Don't worry about it. It's not you. You didn't say anything,'" he said. "It was leaked on a Friday and then Sunday morning I walked out of that door right over there with my bags to go back to work and the driver said, 'I'm sorry. They've canceled the car.'" While Bush assumed that the car's cancellation was a mistake, his lawyer informed him that he wouldn't be returning to his job on NBC's Today.
Reflecting on the tape, Bush said that the tape was filmed during his first year as a co-host on Access Hollywood. "You want people to like you," he said. "I became a very different guy. So the guy that got fired — no question — was a very different guy."
Bush added that he didn't feel comfortable disagreeing with Trump's lewd comments. "Trump's the kind of guy who would say, 'Forget Billy Bush' and then I might have gotten, 'Hey, why did you lose Trump? He's the biggest guest we have,'" he said. "You're a little anxious around him because you just want it to end well and get out."
He then said that he feels like the tape was a "tipping point" in the #MeToo movement. "It was a very hot, emotional time and maybe that helped trigger it. I think that's a good thing," he said.
Now that Bush is making his return to TV on Extra, he doesn't feel like he's starting over, though he said he has "picked up some missing elements in the last few years, like a deeper empathy, patience."
The second part of Bush's interview with King aired on Tuesday.
After he pointed out that he was fired for "a moment in 2005," Bush said that the clip would not have resurfaced if Trump wasn't running for president. "If he was not running for president, that moment would never have occurred. That was about him and not me," said Bush.
Bush added that he is not angry at Trump. "He was being him. I think part of that personality and character is why he was successful in a boardroom, making people fight over lemonade stands," he said.
"I look back at when I was released and I thought I was due for some kind of reckoning in my life," he continued. "I don't think I'd ever really been through anything difficult."
Bush admitted that he did think about hurting himself after he was fired but added that he didn't seriously consider himself to be a candidate for self-harm. "Your mind plays terrible games on you when you're lying on a floor and you're crying and pulling your hair out and you don't know what you're doing," he said. "I have beautiful daughters. I have family. I would never do that, personally." He concluded that he "got close to the end of the rope, but not at the frays."
Following the release of the tape, Bush received a phone call from his cousin George W. Bush. "He called me, said, 'You're not layin' in bed, are ya?'" he recalled. "And I was, like, 'Uhh' – I got outta bed.'"
While Bush told his cousin that he wanted to fight back, the former president had other advice for him. "He said, 'Nope. Just, you know, take what they give ya and walk away. And work on you,'" said the television personality.
Bush also reflected on how the backlash from the tape has inspired him to be a better interviewer. "I won't be the guy that piles on," he said. "I look forward to sitting with people who have been through something. And I hope that they look forward to sitting with me, because they know, 'Well, there's one person that's not gonna be gettin' super-judge-y on me from their perch.'"
Bush previously spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the tape, just seven months after the controversy. "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," he admitted.
He also shared his initial thoughts when the tape was first released. "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,'" he said. "Then I got home, and it started to become apparent that [I] would not be returning [to Today]."
Bush added that he first watched the tape three days before it went public. "I was shocked and alarmed and totally and completely gutted. It was awful. And my participation was awful, too," he said. "I remember that guy, he was almost sycophantic."
Sept. 10, 8:53 a.m. This story has been updated with the second part of King's interview with Bush, which aired on Tuesday's CBS This Morning.