Billy Bush’s exit from NBC News isn’t going to be as amicable as many thought it would be.
The embattled Today show host, who has been suspended for his role in the lewd Donald Trump tape recorded in 2005 when Bush was an anchor at Access Hollywood, has hired a prominent Los Angeles litigator to help work out his separation from the network. And that lawyer is now going on the attack.
Marshall Grossman, one of Los Angeles’ fiercest and most well-respected attorneys, has joined Bush’s team, suggesting the anchor is ready to litigate against NBC if the network can’t reach a deal with its former rising star. Grossman, who has represented Erin Andrews in her peephole case and Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood in other matters, declined to comment on the status of the negotiation. But he defends his client’s role in the Trump tape, in which Bush is heard laughing and encouraging the now-GOP presidential nominee as Trump made misogynistic and predatory comments about women.
Bush, Grossman says, was an NBCUniversal employee interviewing an NBC star in The Apprentice‘s Trump, so he wasn’t exactly in a position to challenge his interview subject.
“If Billy had been passive or responded ‘Shut the f— up’ to Trump, Billy would have been out of a job the next day,” Grossman, a partner at Orrick in Los Angeles, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The shot at NBC comes as negotiations resumed Thursday between the network and Bush over the terms of his exit. The former Access Hollywood host, whose contract pays him about $3 million a year, believes he has leverage in the talks because he had told NBC colleagues about his Trump conversation at least as far back as August, when he was covering the Olympics in Rio.
NBC News sources have insisted news division management — chairman Andy Lack and Today senior vp Noah Oppenheim — did not learn about the tape that captured Bush and Trump on a hot mic and off-camera engaged in a misogynistic and predatory conversation until early last week.
“NBC News did exactly what you would expect from a great news organization,” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement after the tape was released. “As soon as we saw the tape and made the assessment it was undoubtedly newsworthy, we moved quickly and deliberately to get it published and to do so in the most responsible way.”
Bush, who continues to be repped by WME, attorney Robert Lange and publicists Jill Fritzo and David Goldin, may have a different story to tell.
A rep for NBC referred THR‘s request for comment on Bush’s lawyer’s statement to a rep for Access Hollywood, who did not immediately respond.
Full disclosure: Early in his career, the author worked as a lawyer at a law firm run by Grossman.