On Monday, former President George W. Bush implicitly criticized President Trump, taking issue with his approach to immigration and the news media, and suggested that any ties between his team and Russia should be investigated.
Bush indicated that important questions were raised by reported contacts between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s associates during last year’s election campaign, during a television interview to promote a new book of his paintings. “I think we all need answers,” Mr. Bush said on the “Today” show on NBC. He added that he would defer to Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, about how such an investigation should be conducted. He is a “really good guy, and an independent thinker,” Mr. Bush said of Mr. Burr, “and if he were to recommend a special prosecutor, then it would have a lot more credibility with me.”
Bush did not support Donald Trump during last year’s campaign against Hillary Clinton, although in public he largely kept his views to himself. Mr. Bush congratulated Mr. Trump after his victory and attended the inauguration in January, but the interview on Monday made clear that the most recent Republican president still had serious disagreements with his party’s incumbent commander in chief. Although he did not mention Mr. Trump by name, Mr. Bush expressed disapproval of the president’s assertion that “fake news media” organizations are the “enemy of the American people.”
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Mr. Bush told Matt Lauer, the “Today” host. “We need the media to hold people like me to account. I mean, 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, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
He seemed to suggest that language like Mr. Trump’s made it more difficult to press authoritarian leaders like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to tolerate a free press. “It’s kind of hard to, you know, tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves,” he said.
When asked about President Trump’s efforts to temporarily ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Bush urged that everyone should be tolerant with others. As president, Mr. Bush made a point of visiting a mosque after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and regularly insisted that the United States was not at war with Islam.
“It’s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for people to worship the way they want to or not worship at all,” Mr. Bush said. “I mean the bedrock of our freedom — a bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.”