It's been a year since Matt Lauer was accused of sexual misconduct. In an interview, Kathie Lee Gifford revealed how she feels about the former Today show host, who was fired over the allegations.
She told PEOPLE, “I was texting him last week and praying for him this morning. That’s what a friendship means to me."
She continued, making it clear that she intended to stay loyal to him: “I’ve been through very, very hard times in my life and I saw my friends drop away because they weren’t my friends. Times like that test the mettle of friendships. The Matt I love is the Matt I still do.”
In the year since the scandal, Lauer has laid very low. He and his wife Annette Roque are the process of working out their divorce. In the meantime, he's living in his family's home in the Hamptons.
“He made mistakes and he paid dearly for them. But I believe in second, third and 100 chances,” Gifford says. “I believe in redemption because Jesus did. And it’s not for me to judge any choices he made. That’s between him, his wife and his God. My job is to be his friend and be there for him. He’s found out who his real friends are.”
Lauer's scandal also impacted Gifford's day-to-day life. When the news broke in 2017, Gifford had been intending to retire from the Today show.
“It was a really calculated decision two years ago when I first gave my notice to my bosses here at NBC and said, ‘you guys I have to go. It’s time,'” Gifford recalls.
She had decided she wanted to write and produce Christian movies. That meant leaving her talk show.
“I realized, there are dreams that I’ve had since I was a little girl, and the worst thing that could happen is if I wake up and I go, ‘I ran out of time,'” she says. “Because we all do.”
However, when Lauer was abruptly let go, Gifford put the needs of the show above her own dreams. When Gifford’s 10 o’clock hour co-host Hoda Kotb was promoted to co-anchor, Gifford agreed to stay on an extra year.
“The executive producer came to me and said, ‘Kathie, because of what had happened with our friend Matt, would you mind staying? Reconsider, stay,'” she recalls. “And so I said, ‘you know what? Yes, of course I will. I want to help you guys.'”
“We’d had a lot of turmoil here,” Gifford added. “I wanted the transition to be smooth and I wanted to show the business how you can do it. I didn’t leave anybody in the lurch.”
Former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager will be taking Gifford's place when she retires. Gifford says she's excited for the future and happy to see the transition be so smooth.
“We’ve watched her grow,” Gifford says of Hager. “And Hoda and I both have been just in awe of how she has learned to trust her instincts.”