Billy Bush talks Trump ‘Access Hollywood’ tape: ‘I wish I had changed the topic’

Billy Bush broke his silence Sunday night about the infamous Donald Trump “Access Hollywood” tape that caught Trump making vulgar comments about women, and eventually led to Bush losing his job on “Today.”

“Looking back on what was said on that bus, I wish I had changed the topic,” Bush told The Hollywood Reporter. “[Trump] 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.”

In an expansive interview that was released on Sunday, Bush detailed his role in a bombshell 2005 tape of Trump making lewd and sexually aggressive remarks about women in an off-camera conversation with Bush for a segment on “Access Hollywood.”

The footage, which was released by the Washington Post in October, caused a firestorm around then-candidate Trump, leading him to make a statement where he called the conversation, “locker room banter.”

A point with which Bush disagreed.

“No. I’m in a lot of locker rooms,” Bush said. “No, that is not the type of conversation that goes on or that I’ve participated in.”

Bush revealed that he had not known that the tape was going to go public beforehand, but knew about its existence for 11 years.

“I remember the day,” he said.

Following the tape’s release, backlash also surrounded Bush, which ultimately led to the “Today” show host losing his job at the NBC morning show.

Bush told the magazine that the “irony is glaring” that he was fired over the tape while Trump went on to become president. He also thought that he would be able to work through it and address the situation.

“I put together an apology right away… I told people that I was ashamed and embarrassed. And I was. So in the beginning, I thought, ‘OK, we’ll go and own up to this moment,'” Bush said. “Then I got home, and it started to become apparent that [I] would not be returning [to “Today”]. It hurt a lot, and I fell apart.”

Bush said that his “Today” colleagues like Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, and others reached out to him after the controversy. He also said that he reached out to his “Access Hollywood” co-host, Nancy O’Dell, who was described in crass terms on the tape. (Bush, however, would not say if O’Dell had responded.)

Bush, who is married and has three daughters, dealt with the fallout from the tape by going to a retreat over the holidays, using meditation and even walking on hot coals with motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

After being out of the public eye for months, the former host is now planning his comeback to television.

“There’s a process that needs to take place because you just can’t come back; it has to have changed you in some way,” Bush said. “But I plan to return to the job that I love, which is television, communicating, interviewing people.”

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Bernie Marcus, Trump’s No. 2 donor, isn’t asking for much

He doesn’t demand the President hire his right-hand people. He doesn’t ask aspirants to genuflect en route to his palatial home. He didn’t even attend the inauguration.

Bernie Marcus isn’t getting much for his $7 million.

The co-founder and first CEO of Home Depot has none of the pizzazz of the famous Mercer, Adelson or Thiel families who used their sums to fund Donald Trump’s improbable White House victory and are as a result deeply intertwined with his political infrastructure.

For Marcus, the often overlooked second-largest donor behind casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to Trump’s efforts during the presidential campaign, that’s exactly how it should be.

In an age of activist donors who expect fealty from their chosen candidates, Marcus stands out as a throwback to a previous era of political billionaires with little desire to bring their own muscle to the game. Marcus appears all too content to operate on the margins of the White House, a reflection of both his shoulder shrug toward access and of his struggle to build a deep political operation that matches the depth of his pockets, according to interviews with more than a dozen people in his orbit.

“Bernie is not a guy that cares about ring-kissing or anything like that,” said Gary Rabine, a longtime Marcus friend who chats about politics and Trump with him. “He’s a no b.s. guy, and I’m guessing that Bernie couldn’t care less whether he talks to him or not.”

Trump and Marcus are not friends. But observers of the relationship say his absence from Trump’s network is unusual for a Republican who gave so much to support the campaign and implored other donors to do the same.

“He does not relish the game,” said Mike Leven, formerly Adelson’s chief deputy who now works for Marcus projects.

In fact, despite all his contributions, Leven described Marcus as not politically energized until this cycle.

“Bernie was never involved like Sheldon was involved,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it’s been fun for him at all.”

His aides have sought, sometimes against his wishes, to build his public profile and to have him make more demands. But the hands-off donor has expressed more eagerness to play a round of golf or spend time with his wife, Billi, who has encouraged her husband to spend less time on politics, according to a person with knowledge of the dynamic.

A low-key, high-dollar donor

In an hour-long interview last month, Marcus detailed to CNN his relationship with the President, which he said involves occasional emails, maybe a once-a-month phone call and an impromptu encounter at Mar-a-Lago, which is 20 minutes away from his place in Florida. Marcus envisions himself as a political purist, with meager interest in the hand-to-hand combat of politics and little taste for flashy invitations.

“I’m one of the very few people that wants absolutely nothing from him. There’s nothing that he can do for me. Nothing. Zero,” Marcus said. “I’m living my own life. I don’t have time for this kind of politics.”

Senior Trump fundraisers recall Marcus being absent from intimate events prepared for them. Marcus, an avid golfer even as he turned 88 last week, has told his team recently that he has no interest in hitting the links with the commander-in-chief. They have never even dined together.

And members of the closest thing that Marcus has to a political operation, a coalition of CEOs called the Job Creators Network, say Marcus exerted almost zero pressure on the network to donate to Trump or boost him in the White House.

It’s a far cry from the legion of high-wattage donors who are routinely rewarded with treats like good seats at the inauguration, which the notorious homebody Marcus skipped.

“Other people that have done less than Bernie want to play golf with Trump. They want to have dinner with Trump. They go to the White House to see him,” said one Marcus intimate. “He is (88) years old. He doesn’t need his ego stroked.”

Occasionally gruff, relentlessly punctual and intensely private, Marcus cuts a different shape than his new ally. Marcus came to know Trump about a decade ago when he joined Trump’s golf club in Boca Raton, sources say, and Trump came to respect the Home Depot founder’s business acumen and wealth, which is estimated at $4 billion.

“That guy’s got real money,” Trump said of Marcus to one associate who recounted the conversation.

Marcus recalls Trump pursuing him to join his golf club about a decade ago, at one point ringing his office to personally pitch him. Despite a giddy assistant who couldn’t believe ‘The Apprentice’ star was on the line, Marcus wouldn’t take the call. He would later give in and join the club.

Trump was not Marcus’ first choice

When White House contenders began the invisible primary in 2015 to capture commitments from donors, Marcus decided early to side with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. That January he cut Bush’s super PAC a $1 million check, before later disbursing money to back Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Marcus, for his part, was incredulous about Trump and had long seen him as a “whimsical” character worthy of an eye-roll, friends say.

But Marcus watched Trump closely after Bush flamed out, assiduously avoiding anti-Trump super PACs and then coming out publicly as a Trump supporter in an op-ed that was meant for fellow GOP donors to see. Marcus’ team is confident that Trump himself saw it too.

“Republican leaders must listen to their customers, too — their voters — and they have spoken clearly,” he wrote for Real Clear Politics that spring. “Make no mistake, Republicans who refuse to stand behind their party’s nominee are electing Clinton, whether they cast their ballots for her or not.”

Two weeks later, Marcus had 15 minutes alone with Trump when he came to Atlanta for a fundraiser. It was then that Marcus shared with Trump research from American Crossroads, the donor network founded by Karl Rove, about how to repeal regulations via executive order, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction.

By the time of the Republican convention, Marcus cut a $3 million check to a pro-Trump super PAC, the first of several contributions he would give over the course of the race, including millions right after Trump became embroiled in sexual harassment allegations.

That October money would go to a group helmed by Rebekah Mercer, the director of a powerful New York political operation and a big-money influencer in Republican politics. Mercer and Marcus have struck something of a tenuous political alliance, even though they themselves are not personally close, according to people familiar with their relationship.

They did not know each other well before the campaign, and Marcus said he had only met Rebekah Mercer once for an hour — and he thinks highly of her. But as members of the tiny club of early Trump donors, the families have formed something of a marriage of convenience.

Issue advocacy without the usual operation

Marcus does have a few pet issues. He is concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses and said he plans to encourage Trump to pull federal funding from schools where it is rampant. He spoke privately with Trump last month at Mar-a-Lago about some regulations he considers onerous, including the Department of Labor’s overtime rules.

Unlike most other retail giants, Marcus says he supports the border adjustment tax — the controversial levy which Trump has now decided against — calling it a “sacrifice that has to be made.”

Jewish issues, not social ones, still animate him. Marcus has long been a key player at the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, an Adelson-funded group that has influenced his thinking on Israel and terrorism.

“He thinks about Sharia law more than your average billionaire,” said one Marcus associate.

But it is Marcus’ Job Creators Network, known as JCN, that is the closest thing he has to an actual political organization. Sources within the group however describe the founder and primary funder as very much detached from the network. Marcus tends to appear on JCN conference calls, but multiple members say they have never met Marcus personally, and that on the rare times he happens to speak, he espouses a boilerplate economic vision rather than whipping his friends into shape.

“I did not know he was a major donor,” said Ron Lazof, a Marcus friend, when asked about his efforts for Trump.

“I was intrigued by the fact that he was an early supporter of Trump,” said Blair Fensterstock, a JCN member who speaks with Marcus every few months. “We all knew he was supportive, but he was not very vocal.”

Other board members said that Marcus had never once talked about ways to politically boost Trump on the monthly calls — even though many of the CEOs were skeptical of Trump until the very end. In fact, Rabine said, it was Stephen Moore, the Heritage Foundation economist who advised Trump during the campaign — not Marcus, the group’s founder — who encouraged JCN members to back Trump.

“I always felt that if the Job Creators Network was going to be a powerhouse, it needed him to be active,” said Moore, who is a senior economics analyst for CNN. “It needs his gravitas behind it to work.”

Marcus did push for Andrew Puzder, a JCN member, to be nominated as Labor Secretary, but his name was withdrawn amid vetting issues. And Marcus says he was working his JCN network behind the scenes.

JCN has relatively minor asks of its conservative-leaning members: to donate a few thousand dollars a year, to put their names on letters or articles, and perhaps to testify before Congress once in a blue moon. It is in those ways quite dissimilar from the organizations created by billionaires Charles and David Koch, which bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from their supporters and offer them detailed briefings on their political activities at lavish conferences.

That doesn’t interest Marcus, who has told associates and aides that he has no interest in building a hefty political organization or a shadow party.

In fact, Marcus had harsh words for the Koch network, which has had high-profile fights with the Trump administration in its opening months.

“They’ve made life difficult for him,” Marcus said of the powerful siblings. “Why are you fighting him? I don’t get it. I don’t understand it, and I will probably never understand it.”

For their part, the Kochs have backed other pushes by the administration, including Trump’s attempts to cut taxes and roll back regulations.

Lessons learned

Marcus traces his distaste for political combat to “very tough days” when he was seeking money for the Centers for Disease Control in the federal budget, meeting politicians who would later ask him for donations. He found the lobbying process toxic.

Nevertheless, Marcus is largely steered in the ways of politics by two hands: Steven Hantler, a former automotive lobbyist who has developed a close relationship with Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Alfredo Ortiz, who runs JCN and is a past executive at Kraft and Pepsi. Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign communications adviser, also pitches in. Caputo was recently asked by the House intelligence committee to provide documents and be interviewed about unrelated matters concerning its probe into Russian election interference.

Hantler often serves as Marcus’ ubiquitous stand-in at donor conferences or candlelit dinners, which has raised some whispers in finance circles about whether he ever speaks out of turn, as well as questions about his authority to make commitments. Sources say he at times sees himself as less a gatekeeper to a donor and more as a donor himself.

“Bernie Marcus was not invited to many intimate events when we were together — all of us,” said one Trump fundraiser who is close with the family. “Hantler was going instead.”

Marcus’ political work has not been without controversy. Associates say he is uneasy in the public eye given his ties to Home Depot, which must serve Trump fans and foes alike and is wary of Marcus’ partisanship.

Leven said Marcus has been privately confronted on occasion at Jewish events in Atlanta for defending Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has been attacked by critics as anti-Semitic.

“Why are you defending Bannon?” Marcus found himself being asked.

Marcus financed some of Bannon’s movies and said he had known him for about seven years. When Bannon was under attack at the outset of Trump’s transition, Marcus put out a rare statement declaring the controversy a “shonda,” or travesty.

By the end of the campaign, Bannon had convinced Marcus to leave Atlanta and Florida to see one Trump rally up close in Colorado, flying with the President, riding in the motorcade and seeing Trump’s movement firsthand in an experience Marcus describes as transformative.

“He’s never had such access to a president,” said one person close to Marcus.

But as of this month, he has yet to even visit the White House.

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Locked out of China, South Korea’s K-pop stars are heading to the US

China’s loss is America’s gain.

At least that’s according to the legions of Korean pop music fans in the United States, who are proving to be unlikely beneficiaries in a long-running diplomatic spat between China and South Korea.

“China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner, and many Chinese are big fans of Korean pop culture,” said Ellen Kong, CEO of Elf Asia, a Hong Kong promotion company specializing in K-pop.

“But the impact of THAAD has been substantial,” she added, referencing China’s staunch opposition to the U.S.-backed missile shield now housed in South Korea. “It’s meant China is no longer a viable market for K-pop touring acts.”

The result, according to industry insiders, has been a marked upswing in K-pop acts touring in the U.S..

“Around 8 years ago or so, it was very rare for K-pop artists to tour in the US, but now it has become quite common,” said Paul Han, co-founder of allkpop, a site for K-pop gossip and news, which has 10 million monthly readers worldwide.

“Back then, K-pop fans in the U.S. used to say, ‘I wish I could go to Korea to attend their concert,’ but now since a lot of K-pop artists are now having concerts in New York and LA, it’s more like ‘I wish I lived closer to those cities’ or ‘I wish they would come to my city, instead of the same cities all the time'” added Han.

In 2013, there were seven concert tours in the U.S., 14 in 2014 and 2015, then 20 in 2016. So far, there have been 14 in 2017 alone, including the recent tour announced by K-pop icon G-Dragon, from the extremely popular boy band Big Bang.

“With groups unable to tour in China due to the fallout relating to the THAAD crisis, I believe we’re going to see another record year for groups touring across the U.S. this year,” said CEO of Koreaboo, Flowsion Shekar, a popular blog specializing in K-pop.

K-pop diplomacy

Despite China’s foreign ministry repeatedly denying that the country has placed restrictions on South Korea, the topic was outlined as an agenda item in diplomatic talks between the two countries during a visit to Beijing on Friday and Saturday by Lee Hae-chan, South Korea’s special envoy.

“The relationship between South Korea and China is quite strained,” said Lee on Thursday before his departure. “I believe the discussion will be focused to resolve economic, Korean wave, tourism interactions.” Korean wave is a phrase commonly used to describe popular Korean culture and music.

Not that North American K-pop fans are complaining. North Carolina teenager Kylie Grant is just one of thousands of fans for whom the arrival of mainstream K-pop acts couldn’t have come sooner.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity I knew I would regret if I didn’t take,” said Grant, 19, who recently purchased tickets to K-pop boy band SHINee in Dallas. “My friends and family thought it was crazy at first, but after some convincing they all said it was kind of amazing that I would fly across the country just to see a concert.”

The tour was SHINee’s first in North America, taking in Dallas, Los Angeles and Canada. At the weekend, the K-pop powerhouse performed in Hong Kong and on June 11 in Taipei.

“‘The thought of going to see our fans that have been supporting us from so far away made my heart flutter a bit,” said band member Lee Tae-min, 23, known as “Taemin.”

Finding and appreciating K-pop fans

In Dallas and Los Angeles, Lee and the rest of SHINee band members spoke English between the songs, sharing how much they appreciated fans learning Korean and their own love for American food, like In-N-Out burgers.

Unlike the now typical mercurial K-pop bands, SHINee has been around for almost a decade, constantly evolving their look and sound. Fans, known as “Shawols,” are drawn to SHINee for their dance choreography, along with their unique mix of R&B, electronica, rap and rock.

In the last year, several K-pop bands disbanded for various reasons, including scandal. But, one of the reasons for SHINee’s longevity, said Shekar, is the group’s “zero controversy … Every member has held a pristine reputation and have earned themselves an incredible reputation with Korean and international fans.”

Los Angeles-based production company SubKulture Entertainment was able to almost sell out SHINee’s U.S. concerts by targeting fans online, like Grant who discovered SHINee through YouTube.

“Our customer base, like most millennials, are very Internet savvy and acquire most of their information about K-pop via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), which is where we like to focus the majority of our marketing efforts,” said Subkulture Entertainment CEO Derek Lee.

But now in their 20s, SHINee members are growing out of their “boy band” and “Princes of K-pop” monikers. They are also near the age of military enlistment for South Korean males, a destiny that threatens to tear other bands like Big Bang apart.

And while SHINee declined to talk about the military, they do plan to perform in the U.S. again sometime soon.

“We hope that through our tour, K-pop and K-pop concerts will continue to leave a mark on a market as big as the US,” said Taemin.

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American doctor dies climbing Everest

A 50-year-old Alabama man climbing on Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, died on Sunday, officials said. Reuters reported that it’s the third death on the mountain in the past month.

“We have confirmation of his death, but no other details are known,” Murari Sharma, of Everest Parivas trekking company, which sponsored the climb, told Reuters in Kathmandu. “It is also unclear if he was on his way up or down from the summit,” he said.

Roland Yearwood, a doctor, reportedly died at an altitude of about 27,500 feet in an area with thin air called “the death zone.” Ravi Kumar, a 26-year-old Indian climber, has still not been found after going missing in the same area a day ago.

According to Reuters, Yearwood was one of 16 on a team led by American climber Dan Mazur. The team was reportedly climbing from Nepal on the regular Southeast Ridge route.

Kumar and his guide were separated on Saturday, Thupden Sherpa, of the Arun Treks and Expedition company that sponsored Kumar’s team, told Reuters on Sunday.

The Washington Post reported two more deaths. Slovak mountaineer Vladimir Strba reportedly also died Sunday. Australian Francesco Enrico Marchetti, 54, died after “suffering altitude sickness” during his descent on the Tibet side of the mountain, according the Himalayan Times.

 

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10 hospitalized with botulism tied to nacho cheese sauce

Ten people have been hospitalized after they contracted botulism from eating nacho cheese sauce served at a gas station outside of Sacramento, California, according to state and local officials.

The Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement last week that the cause of the illness “appears to be prepared food, particularly nacho cheese sauce” from a gas station in Walnut Grove.

Botulism is a rare illness caused by nerve toxins released from bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech and paralysis, among others. Some cases can be fatal.

CNN affiliate KTXL reports that one woman, Lavinia Kelly, was reportedly hospitalized after putting the nacho cheese sauce on some Doritos chips on April 21.

“My phone rings and I pick up the phone and it’s her, and she can’t articulate a word,” her sister, Theresa Kelly, told KTXL. She said that at first she thought her sister was going to die.

Kelly has spent more than three weeks in the intensive care unit, KTXL reports.

The store was ordered to stop selling prepared foods on May 5, but was allowed to reopen and sell prepackaged food items only on May 8 after a California Department of Public Health officer seized four bags of the cheese sauce, according to a Sacramento County inspection report.

In a statement sent to CNN, state health officials confirmed that the outbreak is believed to have been caused by the nacho cheese sauce. There does not appear to be an ongoing risk to the public, CDPH said.

Botulism outbreaks are rare, according to the CDC’s website.

Foodborne botulism is spread through ingesting the contaminated food, the CDC said. Symptoms typically begin to appear around 18 to 36 hours after eating the food.

While botulism can be fatal, the CDC’s website said only 3 percent to 5 percent of patients die.

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Elderly woman dies in fall off North Carolina overlook

An elderly woman’s body was recovered after a fall off a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook, authorities said.

The victim, identified by Parkway officials as Nancy Ann Martin, 83, died after falling off the East Fork Overlook on Friday.

Martin apparently climbed over the barrier wall and fell over the edge of the overlook in western North Carolina, rescue officials told CNN affiliate WLOS.

It’s unclear why or how Martin went over the barrier and the cause of the incident is under investigation. Officials say her companion called 911 to report the fall.

Her body was recovered about 150 feet down a steep rock face, said Greg Shuping, the director fo Haywood County Emergency Management Director said. Rescuers had to rappel down the mountain to reach the body.

The overlook, at an altitude of 4,955 feet, is near Asheville in the Pisgah National Forest.

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles, through North Carolina and Virginia. The National Park Service says more than 15 million people visited the area in 2016.

“We ask folks to stay on the paved parkways, the overlooks, as well as on the trails that are named trails, that have signage,” Shuping told WLOS.

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