Thanks to her Today show hosting gig, Jenna Bush Hager has cemented her status as a popular public figure. But on Tuesday’s episode of Today with Hoda & Jenna, the TV personality admitted that she struggled with the notoriety that followed her brushes with the law as a 19-year-old college student with a very famous dad: then-President George W. Bush.
In the spring of 2001, just a few months after her father was sworn into office, the University of Texas at Austin freshman was charged with alcohol-related misdemeanors twice in a five-week span: once, in April for possession of alcohol under the age of 21, and again in late May for using a fake ID to purchase alcohol. Twin sister Barbara Bush was also charged with possession of alcohol as a minor in the second incident.
In a conversation with co-host Hoda Kotb, Hager admitted that the scandal left her feeling “embarrassed” and like a “public failure.”
"The first time I had a public failure, I called my dad, and I was crying and I apologized to him," Hager, now a 38-year-old mom of three, shared. "I got a minor in possession of alcohol when I was 19. And I felt embarrassed, and I felt really badly for him because I thought this is going to make him look bad."
But the president turned the tables by apologizing to her.
“He apologized to me because what we wanted more than anything was to just be normal college kids,” Hager says of her and sister Barbara, who attended Yale. "So he always would say, 'No, you can be normal, you can.' He also wanted to give us what we wanted, some space and to grow, and also I think he wanted to give us the chance to make mistakes, not so publicly.”
Hager added, "He said, 'No, I'm sorry. I promised you you could be normal, and this isn't normal.' I think I was probably on the Today show,” she added with a laugh, prompting Kotb to joke that she probably reported on news of the then-first daughter’s legal trouble at the time.
Hager used the story to illustrate the importance of letting children make their own mistakes.
“While we were growing up, I for one had parents that let us fail, let us fall and publicly,” she said. "And I always say to them now, 'How brave of you,' because it didn't reflect great on them, either."
Hager’s comments come a month after she addressed misconceptions people have about her as a former first daughter.
“It’s hard to tell what people think about me, but I think probably, maybe, that I’m not a hard worker,” she said during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. “I try to fight against that a little.”
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