Lester Holt on Departing White House Aide Hope Hicks: "She Was Quite Helpful"

Patrick Lewis Huban/Starpix
Lester Holt on stage at the Paley Center for Media in New York

The 'NBC Nightly News' anchor talked at a Paley Center event on Wednesday night about how his newsmaking May 2017 interview with President Trump came to be.

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt had kind words on Wednesday night for White House communications director Hope Hicks, who, it was revealed earlier in the day, is leaving her position in the next few weeks.

Holt said at an event at the Paley Center for Media in New York that Hicks was "quite helpful" in setting up his May 2017 interview with President Donald Trump, which remains the most recent national broadcast interview that Trump has sat for.

Holt said Hicks was his first point of contact at the White House and ushered him into the Oval Office. "I said, Mr. President, we should talk,'" Holt recalled. The White House communications staff "made it happen," he said.

Holt also credited the White House and the president for keeping his interview on the books, even though Trump fired FBI Director James Comey between the time the interview was scheduled and when it was conducted. Holt said that "spoke to his character" and to the character of Trump's staff.

NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who interviewed Holt onstage, said his Trump interview is now "a piece of evidence" in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian collusion.

Speaking more broadly about covering the ups and downs of the Trump administration, Holt said, "I never want people to think there's glee in covering some of the more offbeat or unusual things we've been reporting from the White House."

Earlier in the event, the news anchor said that moderating a presidential debate in September 2016 was "not a fun experience" and the most stressful thing he's ever done. He also questioned whether it's appropriate for journalists to be moderating debates.

Holt also discussed his recent reporting trips to North Korea, which drew some criticism from right-leaning media outlets that accused him of giving into North Korean propaganda. "It goes against our instincts, obviously to want to push and prod and ask for more," he said of agreeing to government rules for coverage. "At the same time, it's such an extraordinary opportunity. I'd go back tomorrow."

Talking with Mitchell about work-life balance, Holt said, "Jobs go away. It's a volatile time. And, I want to be true to who I am." He then clarified: "That was not a retirement announcement, by the way," which garnered laughter from the audience.