Billy Bush claims he didn’t take Donald Trump’s “grab them by the p—y” comments seriously during the infamous hot mic moment from a 2005 Access Hollywood interview – and insists that if he had, he would have called the authorities.
“To me, it was more braggadocio — his word — and performance,” Bush said in an interview with Robin Roberts that aired on Tuesday’s Good Morning America. “I’d like to think if there was a grown man in front of me detailing his sexual assail strategy, I would have called the FBI.”
Bush remained silent about the tape until an interview in The Hollywood Reporter‘s May 24 issue. Both there and in Roberts’ GMA interview, Bush addressed the backlash he received. He apologized and admitted he agreed with his Today firing.
In the now-infamous 2005 tape, listeners heard Trump tell Bush, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p—y. You can do anything.”
Immediately following the release of the tape – and subsequent backlash – Trump issued a statement saying, “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago … I apologize if anyone was offended.”
But in the weeks leading up to Election Day, Trump was hit with an onslaught of allegations of sexual misconduct from 12 different women — including former PEOPLE writer Natasha Stoynoff, who alleged that Trump assaulted her during a 2005 interview at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has denied all allegations including Stoynoff’s account — tweeting after the story’s publication, “Why didn’t the writer of the twelve year old article in People Magazine mention the ‘incident’ in her story. Because it did not happen!”
RELATED VIDEO: Watch: Natasha Stoynoff Breaks Silence, Accuses Donald Trump of Sexual Attack
Many criticized Bush because he didn’t appear to bat an eye at the conversation, recorded on the Access Hollywood bus in 2005 as the two were preparing to film Trump’s cameo on Days of our Lives. Instead, the host egged Trump on — even asking soap opera star Arianne Zucker to give the then-Apprentice star a hug.
Looking back, Bush admitted to Roberts he “added to the conversation” — explaining that he was “keeping the ball in the air.”
“With Trump it’s not much of a give and take,” he said. “I should have known better, absolutely. There’s no question about that. I look back and I wish. People also say, ‘You should have stopped him.’ But I didn’t have the strength of character at the time — I wish I did.”
Even though he was in his 30s at the time, Bush said his behavior was the result of his inexperience and insecurity.
“I can tell you 12 years ago, it was my first year as co-host of the show [and] I was insecure,” Bush said. “I was a pleaser. I kind of remember wanting these celebrities to like me so I could keep going on with this job.”
He added: “I think I sacrificed my own dignity in that moment. I was very pleased to say goodbye to that guy.”
Since the tape’s release, Bush has spent the past seven months soul-searching — practicing yoga and mindfulness. He issued an apology to his Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O’Dell. He told Roberts he’s ready to get back to work.
“I am only ready to get back to work now because there is purpose and there is clarity and there is acceptance and there is a changed person,” he said. “I do feel like a better man, a better partner and friend and better at my job than I ever was.”