Billy Bush, the former Today show cohost who found himself at the center of one the 2016 campaign's biggest controversies, publicly rebuked President Donald Trump over reports that he has questioned the authenticity of the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
In a New York Times op-ed Sunday, Bush said he was alarmed by reports that the president has told allies that it might not be him on the 2005 tape, and accused Trump of "indulging in some revisionist history." In the audio, Trump can be heard in a hot-mic conversation with Bush, bragging about groping women "by the pussy" and stating that "when you're a star, they let you do it." Bush is heard laughing at Trump's crass jokes; as they approach an actor from Days of Our Lives, he shouts, "Yes, the Donald has scored!"
Bush, who was fired from NBC after the tape emerged last October, wrote Sunday that Trump's reported denials had "hit a raw nerve in me." And he confirmed again that it was definitely Trump who made the remarks heard on the tape.
“Of course he said it,” Bush wrote. “And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real.”
"We now know better," Bush added, pointing to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Trump that came out after the tape was released.
"To these women: I will never know the fear you felt or the frustration of being summarily dismissed and called a liar, but I do know a lot about the anguish of being inexorably linked to Donald Trump," he wrote. "You have my respect and admiration. You are culture warriors at the forefront of necessary change."
Amid a moment of national reckoning over sexual misconduct and abuse of power, he said, the president's denials of his past comments amount to "wantonly poking the bear."
Bush, who has kept a low profile since his ouster from NBC, then defended his own part in the tape, stating that his job involved "establishing a strong rapport with celebrities" and that he was promoted for his segments with Trump, who had recently launched his hit reality series, The Apprentice, on the network. Bush suggested he wasn't alone in this, saying that many people who were higher up than him at the network also "had to stroke the ego of the big cash cow."
"Was I acting out of self-interest? You bet I was. Was I alone? Far from it," Bush wrote. "None of us were guilty of knowingly enabling our future president. But all of us were guilty of sacrificing a bit of ourselves in the name of success."
The op-ed ended on a "personal note," with Bush describing his life since the tape's release last October as an "odyssey."
"After everything over the last year, I think I’m a better man and father to my three teenage daughters — far from perfect, but better," he concluded.
Bush is set to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Monday, in which he will presumably be asked about the infamous tape, as well as the recent wave of allegations against numerous powerful men, including Bush's former Today show colleague Matt Lauer.