Morales, who worked alongside Lauer on Today before taking over for Billy Bush on Access Hollywood, addressed her former co-worker’s termination Wednesday morning for alleged inappropriate sexual behavior. The news anchor also made sure to focus the attention on the alleged victim instead of on past rumors about the nature of her relationship with Lauer.
“I woke up to the news like everyone this morning — just in shock. The Today show, of course, has been my family for 16 years now and it is difficult,” Morales said on Access Hollywood Live. “I think everyone is saying how difficult it is to process the news.”
She continued, “I have personally dealt with rumors in the past for years that were hurtful to me, my family – they diminished my hard work. I’ve addressed those rumors head-on in the past. That is not the story today. The story today is the courage of a colleague who did come forward, and when and if she wants to tell her story publicly, I’m sure she will. But it did take a lot of courage for her to come forward. It was no doubt a very painful decision.”
Rumors swirled in summer 2016 that Morales’s departure from Today to the West Coast stemmed from an affair between her and Lauer. The two quickly denied all rumors, with Lauer telling Page Six that “every aspect of this story is untrue, and it’s frankly sad that someone would tell lies to harm everyone involved.”
Morales – who first joined Today as a national correspondent in 2006 and moved up to co-anchor in 2008 – also spoke out, calling the story “completely absurd,” as well as “damaging, hurtful and extremely sexist.”
WATCH: Matt Lauer Fired Overnight After NBC Received a Complaint Alleging ‘Inappropriate Sexual Behavior’
Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb broke the news of Lauer’s firing Wednesday morning, opening the show with a statement from NBC News chairman Andrew Lack. Lack said that officials received a “detailed complaint” from a colleague accusing Lauer of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Lauer got his start at NBC in 1992 when he filled in as a newsreader on Today, becoming a co-anchor of the morning show in January 1997.
Access Hollywood airs daily (check local listings) on NBC.