President George W. Bush says it's important to have a free press: 'Power can be very addictive'

Highlights from Bush's interview on the "Today" show.

February 27, 2017, 2:00 PM

— -- During a rare interview on NBC’s “Today” show, former President George W. Bush -- who seldom commented on political issues during Barack Obama’s presidency -- offered his critique of the Trump administration’s policies and the president's contentious relationship with the press. The nation's 43rd president was on the show to promote his new book, “Portraits of Courage,” a series of paintings of wounded veterans.

Here are the key highlights from his interview:

Bush calls for answers on possible connections between Russia and Trump campaign

Bush said he supports an investigation that explores possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“I think we all need answers,” Bush told Matt Lauer.

Bush, however, did not say whether or not a special prosecutor is needed to conduct an investigation, instead leaning on any recommendation that comes from Senate Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr.

”I'm not sure the right avenue to take. I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered,” he added.

Bush defends the media as a check on "addictive" power

Bush critiqued Trump’s feud with the media, calling it “indispensable to democracy.”

“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.”

Bush said that during his time as president he tried to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin of the importance of an independent press.

Bush on Trump’s immigration policy

When asked if the Trump administration’s executive order banning the immigration of people from seven Muslim majority countries makes it harder for the United States to fight terrorism, Bush replied, “It's hard to fight the war on terrorism if we're in retreat. And I think we learned that lesson.”

“If the United States decides to pull out before a free society emerges, it's going to be hard to defeat them," he said. "The enemy is very good about exploiting weakness. It's going to be important. If that's the goal, to defeat ISIS, which I believe it should be, that we project strength. Now, whether or not the domestic politics plays helps them or not.”

When pressed by Lauer if he supports Trump’s ban, Bush wouldn’t give a definitive "yes" or ‘no.”

“I'm for an immigration policy that's welcoming and upholds the law,” he answered.

Bush reflects on the divisions facing the country

Bush laughed at Trump’s description of “carnage” across America but noted the divisions facing the country.

“We were pretty divided when I was president right after a while. We were united after 9/11,” he said. “Some of this will burn out, but it requires all of us understanding how the other person thinks.”

But as divided as the country might seem, Bush pointed out that divisions were “much worse" during the 1960s.

When asked how Trump can help heal those divisions, he said give the president some time.

“First of all, there's only been one month in office," Bush said. "Secondly, I think you have to take the man for his word that he wants to unify the country. We'll see if he's able to do so. It's hard to unify the country with the news media being so split up.”

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