CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin returned to the airwaves Thursday for the first time since his embarrassing Zoom masturbation incident in October, thanking the liberal network for not firing him and saying he felt the New Yorker's termination of him was excessive.
Toobin, who was swiftly fired from The New Yorker last year for his conduct, listened as daytime anchor Alisyn Camerota had the painfully awkward "honors" of describing what happened and its consequences. Toobin was witnessed by colleagues exposing himself and masturbating on a staff Zoom call, leading to widespread ridicule of the veteran journalist.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Camerota asked during the in-person interview, not a Zoom one.
"Well, obviously, I wasn't thinking very well or very much, and it was something that was inexplicable to me. I think one point -- I wouldn't exactly say in my defense, because nothing is really in my defense. I didn't think I was on the call. I didn't think other people could see me," he said.
"You thought that you had turned off your camera?" she asked.
"Correct. I thought that I had turned off the Zoom call. Now, that's not a defense. This was deeply moronic and indefensible. But I mean, that is part of the story. And you know, I have spent the seven subsequent months, miserable months in my life, I can certainly confess, trying to be a better person," he said.
Toobin said he had done volunteer work and had repeatedly apologized to his colleagues. He said he felt lucky to still be with CNN, who he first joined in 2002.
Camerota, noting Toobin had covered the "sexual proclivities" of such public figures as Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner, wondered why he hadn't demonstrated better judgment. She also asked how those on the call might have felt to see him exposed like that.
"Because I'm a flawed human being who makes mistakes, and you know, there is no defense for my conduct," he said. "The only issue is what should be the consequences, and the 'New Yorker' made one decision about the consequences. CNN made a different decision, fortunately, for which I'm very grateful, but I am not going to come up here and, you know, split hairs and try to come up with justifications or explanations. It was wrong. It was stupid. And I'm trying to be a better person."
Toobin claimed The New Yorker's investigation before its firing found no other complaints against him, although this wasn't his only sex scandal. Toobin fathered a child in 2009 with Casey Greenfield, the daughter of Toobin's onetime CNN colleague Jeff Greenfield.
Toobin urged Greenfield to have an abortion and was later taken to court after he denied the child was his. Toobin was forced to take a DNA test which proved that he was the child's biological father and was ordered to pay child support.
"Do you think … that the punishment fits the crime?" Camerota asked of his firing.
"I am the worst person to ask that question," he said. "I mean, obviously, I love The New Yorker. I loved working there. I felt like I was a very good contributor to that magazine for a very long time, and I thought this punishment was excessive, but look, you know, that's why they don't ask the criminal to be the judge in his own case. I mean, I thought it was an excessive punishment. I'm incredibly grateful to CNN for taking me back."
Toobin eventually addressed Supreme Court issues, including liberal pressure on Justice Stephen Breyer to retire.
"Jeffrey, many of us have really missed having your legal analysis to guide us on our programs, so let me be the first to welcome you back," Camerota said.
"Thank you. It is good to be back, and I hope to be a better person off camera as well as on camera," Toobin said.
Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.