By Christopher Rosen
May 21, 2017 at 08:57 PM EDT

Seven months after Billy Bush left the TODAY show in disgrace following the release of the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape that featured Bush and Donald Trump making derogatory comments about women, the former host is speaking out for the first time. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bush said of Trump’s remarks, “I wish I had changed the topic. I wish I had said: ‘Does anyone want water?’ or ‘It looks like it’s gonna rain.’ He liked TV and competition. I could’ve said, ‘Can you believe the ratings on whatever?’ I didn’t have the strength of character to do it.”

Released in October, before Trump won the presidency, the audio recording occurred as Trump and Bush, who was then a co-host of Access Hollywood, headed to the set of Days of Our Lives for a segment about Trump’s forthcoming appearance on the soap opera. On the tape, Bush can be heard calling Trump’s future scene partner “hot as sh–.”

“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said during the conversation. “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.”

“Whatever you want,” Bush replied.

“Grab them by the p—y. You can do anything,” Trump added.

Credit: Access Hollywood

Speaking to THR, Bush said he hadn’t recalled ever hearing Trump say “anything to that degree” in the past. “But he’s a provocateur. Shocking statements flow like wine from him. And he likes to captivate an audience,” Bush said. According to the former host, Trump did not know he was being recorded at the time of the comments.

In the wake of the tape’s release last year, Trump initially called his remarks “locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.” But asked if he felt that characterization was accurate, Bush said no. “I’m in a lot of locker rooms, I am an athlete, and no, that is not the type of conversation that goes on or that I’ve participated in,” he told THR.

Bush also said he felt Trump was being purposefully shocking in their interaction. “Almost like Andrew Dice Clay, the stand-up comedian: Does he really do the things that he’s saying or is that his act?” he said. “And in Donald’s case, I equated it that way. When he said what he said, I’d like to think if I had thought for a minute that there was a grown man detailing his sexual assault strategy to me, I’d have called the FBI.”

The 45-year-old was initially suspended by NBC and the TODAY show before being ousted. In a statement released at the time of his exit, Bush said, “I am deeply grateful for the conversations I’ve had with my daughters, and for all of the support from family, friends, and colleagues. I look forward to what lies ahead.”

In the interview with THR, Bush noted he has not spoken to Trump since the release of the tape. Trump was elected President of the United States on Nov. 8, four weeks after the audio’s release.

See Bush’s THR cover below.

Credit: Frank W. Ockenfels 3/The Hollywood Reporter