Billy Bush says Matt Lauer did NOT bigfoot him out of the coveted first sit-down interview with Ryan Lochte ... telling TMZ Sports it was Lochte who called the shots.
There are reports that Lauer and his "Today" show team have been mean-girling Bush behind the scenes ... treating him like an "outcast" ever since he joined the show back in May.
And eyebrows were raised when, after Bush scored that huge exclusive 1-on-1 with Lochte on the beach in Rio (the one where Lochte straight up lied) ... the follow-up sit-down went to Lauer.
So, what happened?
Bush says it was Lochte who set the terms for the follow-up and hand-picked Lauer. Bush says any suggestion that Matt orchestrated some diabolical plot to hijack his story is just wrong.
As for Lochte ... we asked Bush if the swimmer owes him an apology for lying to him on camera -- he didn't exactly say no.