George W. Bush Defends Media as Check on Leaders: "Power Can Be Addictive"

The former president, who remained mostly silent during the 2016 presidential election, sat down for a wide-ranging interview on NBC's 'Today' show on Monday morning.

Former president George W. Bush made a relatively rare public appearance on Monday's Today show, speaking out against Donald Trump's attacks on the media and immigration policy, and supporting a closer look at the president's ties to Russia.

But throughout the wide-ranging interview on the NBC morning show, Bush didn't mention Trump by name.

Bush, who has largely remained out of the spotlight since leaving office, has been devoting his time to his painting hobby and is releasing a book of his paintings of wounded veterans.

Sitting down for a live interview with co-host Matt Lauer, Bush took issue with Trump's characterization of the "fake news media" as "the enemy of the American people."

"I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account," Bush said. "Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive. And it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere. One of the things that I spent a lot of time doing was trying to convince people, like Vladimir Putin for example, to accept the notion of an independent press. It's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we're not willing to have one ourselves."

Bush also weighed in on Trump's travel ban, saying simply that he is "for an immigration policy that's welcoming and upholds the law." And the former president, who after 9/11 took pains to distinguish between the attackers and Muslims, reiterated that difference.

"I think it's very important for all of us to realize one of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all. A bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely," Bush said. "See, I understood right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict, and people who murder the innocent are not religious people. They want to advance an ideology."

As for concerns about the extent of contact between President Trump's team and the Russian government, Bush declined to say whether he thought there should be a special prosecutor appointed to investigate and merely said, "I think we all need answers."

The 43rd president remained mostly tight-lipped throughout the 2016 presidential election, in which his brother Jeb was a candidate and one-time favorite for the Republican nomination. The former president neither endorsed nor voted for Trump or his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. 

Nevertheless, when Trump won the election Bush was among the Republican leaders congratulating the president-elect, and he was on hand for Trump's inauguration last month.

The Bushes also didn't weigh in when another family member  cousin Billy Bush  was involved in the leaked Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women that emerged in October and ultimately cost Billy Bush his job on Today. Billy Bush wasn't discussed during the Today interview.