Billy Bush, NBC working on separation agreement

“Today” show co-anchor Billy Bush, who has found himself in the middle of a firestorm related to his appearance in a video that featured Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women, is working on a separation deal with NBC, according to people familiar with negotiations.

Bush had been previously suspended over his remarks on a 2005 tape The Washington Post published Friday that captured Donald Trump on a hot microphone making extremely lewd comments about women and talking about groping them. Trump was with Bush to film an “Access Hollywood” segment plugging an upcoming soap opera cameo, and Bush – then a host on the news-entertainment program – is heard laughing, joking with Trump and talking about ogling women.

On Monday, the “Today” show briefly mentioned the suspension during its telecast. By Tuesday, digital billboards outside of the show’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters didn’t appear to carry Bush’s likeness.

Bush has remained quiet in the fallout. “Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed,” he said in a statement Friday, his only public comment about the tape. “It’s no excuse, but this happened eleven years ago – I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry.”

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Bush, 44, worked for radio before transitioning to an NBC affiliate in New York. The nephew of President George H.W. Bush and cousin to President George W. Bush joined “Access Hollywood” in 2001. He also frequently appeared on the “Today” show. In May, the network announced Bush would join the morning program as a full-time co-anchor, appearing on the 9 a.m. hour typically featuring light entertainment and celebrities.

“He brings boundless energy, a great interviewing style and a deep knowledge of pop culture,” a network executive said back in May.

But by August, tensions among “Today” show personalities were clearly on display. Bush’s on-air argument with weatherman Al Roker about the controversy surrounding swimmer Ryan Lochte’s alleged robbery during the Rio Olympics went viral. Bush had landed the first interview with Locthe, before the American swimmer’s version of the story began to unravel.

Then came the release of the Trump tape, which became perhaps the most seismic event of the election season, setting off a wave of Republican lawmakers either distancing themselves from their party’s nominee or calling on him to step down.

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Many of Trump’s remarks on the 2005 tape were recorded by a hot microphone while he and Bush were not seen on camera, but aboard a bus emblazoned with an “Access Hollywood” logo. Several people are heard laughing as Trump talked about failing to seduce a married woman.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump says. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Bush responds: “Whatever you want.” Then Trump says: “Grab them by the p–y.”

At one point, Trump and Bush apparently seem to notice actress Arianne Zucker, who was waiting to escort them to the “Day of Our Lives” set.

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“Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!” Bush says. He then calls Zucker “hot as s–” and then urges another woman to move out of his line of vision so he could ogle Zucker’s legs.

Once Trump and Bush exit the bus and are on camera, Bush tells Zucker, “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.” He then asks, “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus.”

The tape’s publication also raised questions as to why NBC wasn’t the first outlet to broadcast it. “Access Hollywood” does not fall under NBC News, which is the department that oversees “Today” and was aware of the footage for days prior to The Post’s report.

The news division first discovered the tape’s existence when contacted by “Access Hollywood” producers and was waiting for lawyers to review the material before publishing it. NBC News also agreed to let the entertainment program break the story first.

But the delay in publication led to NBC being scooped by another outlet. And then People cited an unnamed source on Tuesday suggesting that NBC had considered editing Bush out of the tape altogether. An NBC News spokesman said there had “there absolutely was never a consideration by NBC News to edit the tape.”

Bush’s comments also seemed to spell trouble for “Today,” both with viewers and guests. The show “is going to have a real problem booking female guests while Billy Bush anchoring,” Anthony Quintano, who ran the show’s social media accounts until last year, tweeted.

Paul Farhi contributed to this report.