George W. Bush opens up on Trump's war with the media, travel ban, Russia and veterans

In his first in-depth interview since Donald Trump's inauguration, former President George W. Bush gave his take on the current commander in chief's first month in office, addressing Trump's attack on the media, his controversial immigration policy, and the Russian hacking scandal.

Early on in the exclusive sit-down, the former president expressed a clear-eyed support for the news media, saying a free press was "indispensable to democracy."

"We needed the media to hold people like me to account," Bush told TODAY'S Matt Lauer.

"Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power."

RELATED: George W. Bush highlights military veterans in new book 'Portraits of Courage'

Bush was asked about the media's role in light of President Donald Trump's recent characterization of the media as "enemies of America." He noted he spent a lot of time during his two terms trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to embrace an independent press.

"It's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we're not willing to have one ourselves," he said.

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President George W. Bush's inaugurations
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President George W. Bush's inaugurations
George W. Bush (L) is sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States January 20, 2001 by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (right/foreground). First lady Laura Bush (center/right) looks on, as well as daughters Jenna (C) and Barbara (obscured behind Rehnquist). At center/rear are Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, right/rear.
President George W. Bush delivers his inaugural address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

Fireworks burst above US Vice President Dick Cheney (L), wife Lynn Cheney, First Lady Laura Bush (3L) and US President George W. Bush (4L) during the 'Celebration of Freedom' inaugural concert on the Ellipse south of the White House in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Casey Owens, a wounded marine, salutes during the Inaugural speech by U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Logan Walters, aide to President elect George W. Bush, takes dog Spot from Bush, who is sitting in his limousine, as they arrived to board an Air Force jet to take him and wife Laura to Washington via Midland, Texas, for the presidential inauguration, January 17, 2001. 

(Rick Wilking / Reuters)

President-elect George W. Bush (R) dances with singer Ricky Martin at the opening ceremony of the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington January 18, 2001. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president on January 20.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Former U.S. President George H. Bush (R), with his wife Barbara and granddaughters Barbara (rear, L) and Jenna (rear, R) wave as they walk through the Rotunda on Capitol Hill prior to the swearing in of President George W. Bush, January 20, 2005. President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term on Thursday and pledged to work to heal a country divided by the Iraq war. Bush, who begins his second term with the lowest approval rating of any returning president except Richard Nixon, said in his inaugural address, "We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes, and I will strive in good faith to heal them."

(REUTERS/Robert Sullivan)

The Rockettes perform at the Lincoln Memorial during the opening ceremony for George W. Bush's inauguration January 18, 2001 in Washington. Bush will be sworn in as the next President of the United States on January 20.

(Win McNamee / Reuters)

Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell (L) and Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft arrive at the Inauguration opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington January 18, 2001. George W. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States on January 20. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
A worker cleans windows of a downtown bank January 18, 2001, in preparation for the inauguration of George W. Bush as 43rd president of the United States. Bush will be inaugurated on January 20.

(Shaun Best / Reuters)
 
President George W. Bush (R) is hugged by his daughter Jenna while his wife, first lady Laura Bush (2nd R), daughter Barbara (L) and Vice President Dick Cheney look on, after Bush was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States during the Inauguration ceremony and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
Carpet layers Timothy Bury (R) and Jason McNamara lay out the carpet U.S. President George W. Bush will walk down to the dias for his swearing-in ceremony as inaugural preparations continue at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 12, 2005. President Bush will be sworn in for his second term January 20. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn GMH

Would-be president Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., far left, and other members look on as Kerry's competition in the 2004 election, President George W. Bush, delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in for a second term.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Former President George Bush (2nd L) shakes hands with President Bill Clinton as he and Barbara Bush (L) arrive at the Presidential Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush's son, George W. Bush, took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States Saturday and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity." At right of Clinton is U.S. Vice President Al Gore. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

On a dreary, rain-filled January 20, 2001, George W. Bush is sworn in on the west side of the U.S. Capitol building. In his inaugural speech, Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters

U.S. President George W. Bush (2L) and his wife Laura walk down the steps of the Capitol Building with former President Bill Clinton (2R) and his wife Hillary following Bush's inauguration in Washington, January 20, 2001. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. 

(Shaun Best / Reuters)

The White House on May 14, 2002 said the Republican Party was selling copies of photographs of U.S. President George W. Bush on Sept. 11 to raise campaign funds, drawing Democratic charges it was exploiting a tragedy. The photograph was part of a three-photo package, including this file photo of Bush's inauguration, depicting "the defining moments" of Bush's first year in exchange for a minimum donation of $150 to a dinner next month headlined by Bush and sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Bush takes the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (R) on January 20, 2001.

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

A workman removes bunting from bleachers near the presidential reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington on January 21, 2001. President George W. Bush, sworn into office on January 20, watched the inaugural parade from the stand. PM/jp

President-elect George W. Bush shares a laugh with his wife Laura during the Wyoming State Society reception January 19, 2001 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Bush will be inaugurated as President of the United States in ceremonies January 20. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush's daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna listen to their father while attending an Inauguration Ball at the Washington Hilton, January 20, 2005.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush share their first turn on the dance floor at the Ronald Reagan Inaugural Ball January 20, 2001 in Washington, DC. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States earlier in the day. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and first lady Laura Bush wave as they walk during the inaugural parade, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office today as the 43rd president of the United States and pledged he would work to build a "single nation of justice and opportunity.

(Tim Shaffer / Reuters)

President George W. Bush (L) takes the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States while his wife, first lady Laura Bush, looks on during the Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity.

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

A snowball melts on the side of a limousine as Vice President Richard Cheney waves during the inaugural parade in Washington, January 20, 2005. Flag-draped coffins and anti-war chants competed with pomp and circumstance on Thursday at the inauguration of President George W. Bush along the snow-dusted, barricaded streets of central Washington.

(REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

George W. Bush (R) shakes hands with former Vice President Al Gore after Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States during the Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States Saturday and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
Dick Cheney is sworn in as the 43rd vice president of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. [George W. Bush took the oath of office today as the 43rd president of the United States and pledged he would work to build a "single nation of justice and oppurtunity." ]

A man walks past the inaugural parade reviewing stand that is under construction in front of the White House, January 4, 2005 in Washington, DC. U.S. President George W. Bush will be sworn in to serve his second term as president on January 20.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President George W. Bush hugs his father, former President George Bush (L) and reaches for his mother Barbara after he was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, in Washington January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity."
George W. Bush's daughters Jenna (L) and Barbara attend the presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 20, 2001. [George W. Bush will be the first president's son to take over the White House since John Quincy Adams in 1825. ]

Fireworks burst over the Washington Monument at the close of the 'Celebration of Freedom' program 19 January 2005 on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. The concert is one in a series of events surrounding the 20 January 2005 second term inauguration of US President George W. Bush.

(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) shakes hands with former president Bill Clinton after Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, at the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2001. President Bush is the first president's son to take over the White House since John Quincy Adams in 1825.
Workers finish preparations for U.S. President Bush's inauguration outside the Capitol Building, in Washington, January 18, 2005. Preparations are continuing for the January 20 inauguration of President George W. Bush, the first since the 9/11 attacks. Bush is drawing heat over a $40 million splurge on inaugural balls, concerts and candlelight dinners while the country is in a somber mood because of the Iraq war and Asian tsunami. Critics say the lavish celebrations are unseemly when U.S. troops face daily violence in Iraq and Americans are being urged to donate money to alleviate the suffering in Asia, where the Dec. 26 tsunami killed 163,000 people. REUTERS/Jason Reed JIR/GN

President-elect George W. Bush (R) with his wife Laura and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and his wife Lynn descend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the start of the inaugural opening ceremonies in Washington January 18, 2001.

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush (R), first lady Laura Bush (2nd R), Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and Lynne Cheney (2nd L) arrive on stage for "A Celebration of Freedom" on The Ellipse in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2005. Bush will be sworn in for his second term on January 20. REUTERS/Mike Segar REUTERS PJ
U.S. President George W. Bush (L) smiles at first lady Laura Bush (R) as they wait for the Inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005. Behind Bush from left to right are daughters Barbara Bush, Jenna Bush, brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush and father, former President George H. Bush. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque PJ

Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes a photograph as he arrives for the Inauguration of his brother, U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005.

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush walk in the Inaugural Parade in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Peter Morgan)

U.S. Vice president Dick Cheney (L) takes the oath for his second term in office from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) at inaugural ceremonies in Washington D.C. January 20, 2005. Cheney's wife Lynn (2nd L), daughters Mary (3rd L) and Liz (2nd R) watch. Watching behind is U.S. President George W. Bush (rear R) and Senator Trent Lott (R-MS).

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque PM)

Police line the Inauguration parade route in Washington, DC, January 20, 2005. U.S. President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term on Thursday and pledged to work to heal a country divided by the Iraq war. Bush, who begins his second term with the lowest approval rating of any returning president except Richard Nixon, said in his inaugural address, "We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes, and I will strive in good faith to heal them." Bush also vowed to advance democracy abroad to "break the reign of hatred and resentment" in his address, delivered on a snowy, wintry day before thousands gathered at the U.S. Capitol and millions watching on television.

(REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

U.S. President George W. Bush prepares to give his inaugural speech on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

U.S. President George W. Bush waves with first lady Laura Bush during the Texas Wyoming Ball in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office earlier today.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush dance on the Presidential Seal at the Commander-in-Chief's Inauguration Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, January 20, 2005. Pictures of the Year 2005.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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Bush also addressed the controversy over Trump advisers and the role they may have played in the scandal involving Russian hackers who tried to intervene in the election, saying he would leave questions about whether a special prosecutor should investigate up to the Senate intelligence committee leaders.

RELATED: Chuck Todd: John McCain is concerned Donald Trump 'crossed the line' about media

"I think we all need answers," he said, going to on praise North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the head of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee. "I'm not sure the right avenue to take. I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered."

Bush, the last Republican to occupy the White House, also was asked about President Trump's controversial executive order that banned immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations.

Asked pointedly if he favored or opposed the policy, Bush said, "I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law."

Bush won the 2000 presidential election after one of the most contentious and controversial decisions in American history. He took office after a divided Supreme Court ruled over a dispute involving a contested recount in Florida.

Bush also returned to the show to discuss his new book, "Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors," a collection of portraits of some of the military veterans he has met.

Proceeds of the book will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a non-profit organization that helps post-Sept. 11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life.

"I want to sell a lot of books to raise money for helping our vets," he said, expressing "great pride" in getting to know the veterans he featured in the book, including four who appeared with him on TODAY.

RELATED VIDEO: Homeland Security report disputes President Donald Trump's travel ban

Bush noted that many of the veterans he met used peer-to-peer counseling in their healing process, a process that allowed them to open up about their wounds that weren't always visible.

"It starts with ...vets saying, 'I've got a problem.' There's a lot of denial because there's a stigma. So our message is, it's courageous to talk about it and seek help," he said.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rodriguez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while deployed overseas, said Bush's outreach to veterans, which included inviting them to his Texas ranch home, inspired him to do the same.

"When I saw that he reached out and he opened his heart and home to us, in the caring way that President Bush does, it inspired me to try to connect with people as well," he said.

The portraits are also currently on display as part of an exhibition at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas.

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George W. Bush paints portrait of veteran
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George W. Bush paints portrait of veteran
Over the past several months, I've painted the portraits of 98 wounded warriors I've gotten to know - remarkable men and women who were injured carrying out my orders. I think about them on #VeteransDay and every day. Their paintings and stories will be featured in PORTRAITS OF COURAGE - a book and special exhibit - next spring, and I am donating all my proceeds to @thebushcenter and our Military Service Initiative's work to honor and support them. Click link in bio for more info.

A wounded warrior and avid bicyclist, Captain Kevin Rosenblum had the chance to meet the 43rd President twice, once last year and again a few months ago, thanks to his mountain bike.

"I applied and I was lucky enough to get selected," said Rosenblum, who served in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2009, including two tours of Iraq.

Rosenblum says through an organization known as Team Red White and Blue he heard about President Bush's unique bike ride at his ranch in Texas.

"He invites about half a dozen to 20 wounded post 9-11 veterans there to come ride for three days," said Rosenblum. "It's  100 kilometers over the three days."

The former President gets to lead the troops once again, only this time it's a peloton he's in front of all three days.

For the former Army Captain it was more than just an opportunity to ride with a former U.S. President.

"The biggest thing I took away from it is that it was completely non-partisan, non-political, the point of the ride is to support veterans and raise awareness for the invisible wounds of war," he said.

Rosenblum says he deployed shortly after being commissioned a 2nd Lt. and was wounded in a mortar attack.

"The mortar that hit most of us, hit right basically where we had been standing," Rosenblum recalled.

Thrilled to announce my latest passion project: Portraits of Courage, a collection of my oil paintings and the stories of 98 wounded warriors who have inspired me. Pre-order the book now (link in bio) and reserve tickets to the special exhibition at @thebushcenter. I'm donating all my profits to the Bush Center and our Military Service Initiative's work to honor and support our veterans and their families.
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