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  • - Now let's understand something about presidents,

  • first and foremost.

  • They're all sociopaths.

  • I mean, think about the ego

  • that's required to be president of the United States.

  • When we meet somebody with that kind of ego at a party,

  • you usually find yourself moving across the room.

  • Hi, I'm Jeffrey Engel,

  • director of the Center for Presidential History

  • at Southern Methodist University.

  • Today, we're gonna be reviewing scenes

  • that feature U.S. presidents in films and TV.

  • [dramatic music]

  • This is "Frost/Nixon" directed by Ron Howard.

  • In this scene, which is the real climax of the movie,

  • Richard Nixon admits to something dramatic

  • about the Watergate break-in.

  • - You're quoting me out of context, out of order.

  • And I might add, I have participated in all these interviews

  • without a single note in front of me.

  • - Okay, first off, this is a great impersonation of Nixon.

  • He's got the mannerisms, he's got the voice.

  • He's got the head movements, except he's nice.

  • Richard Nixon wasn't nice.

  • This man is polite and gentle.

  • Richard Nixon had a burning fury of anger

  • in everything he did.

  • If he thought a reporter was taking him down the wrong road,

  • even if he was on film, even if he was on camera,

  • he would have shut him down a lot harder than that.

  • - I have never heard or seen such outrageous,

  • vicious, distorted reporting in 27 years of public life.

  • - The movie centers around the aftermath

  • of the Watergate break-in.

  • In 1972 operatives working for Richard Nixon

  • broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters

  • basically looking for dirt on Nixon's potential opponents

  • in the upcoming presidential campaign.

  • It seemed like every day,

  • a new piece of information would trickle out

  • bringing the scandal closer and closer to Nixon.

  • Nixon has to resign.

  • The first and only president in American history

  • to resign the office.

  • - Do you seriously expect us to believe

  • that you had no knowledge of that?

  • - None, I believed the money was for humanitarian purposes

  • to help disadvantaged people with their defense.

  • - Richard Nixon did really sit for interviews with Frost

  • a few years after leaving the White House in disgrace.

  • However, it wasn't antagonistic.

  • It was a business operation and partnership between the two.

  • Nixon was paid $800,000, which is about the equivalent

  • of about $10 million in today's dollars.

  • And more importantly,

  • he was set to get 20% of the profit of any recording sales

  • that they did for the interview going forward.

  • And Nixon's own people were encouraging Nixon to say more.

  • The humanitarian purposes for disadvantaged people

  • with their defense he's talking about

  • the guys that broke into the Watergate for him.

  • And the truth is one of the things

  • that busted the case wide open

  • was that one of them admitted in open court

  • that he was being pressured and bribed not to talk.

  • So in a sense, the defense

  • is not for the lawyers necessarily.

  • The defense that Nixon's paying for is for his own skin.

  • - Maybe I should have done that.

  • Maybe I should have just called the Feds into my office,

  • and said, hey, there's the two men.

  • Haul them down to the dock, fingerprint them,

  • and then throw them in the can.

  • - What we have to understand is that Nixon is in exile.

  • He's living in California.

  • He's moved back home in disgrace.

  • He thought if he told his side of the story,

  • if people could hear him say it in a controlled environment,

  • that would reboost his reputation and you know what?

  • It worked.

  • - Are you really saying that in certain situations,

  • the president can decide

  • whether it's in the best interest of the nation,

  • and then do something illegal?

  • - I'm saying that when the president does it,

  • that means it's not illegal.

  • - So that's supposed to be the climax of the movie,

  • the moment when Richard Nixon admits guilt for Watergate.

  • The truth is he didn't.

  • Oh, he admitted guilt.

  • He admitted that he felt guilty feelings

  • for how bad Watergate was for the American people.

  • If mistakes were made, he was sorry.

  • He said out loud,

  • perhaps I gave the sword to people who used it wrongly,

  • but I did not wield the sword myself.

  • The kind of apologies you make

  • when you don't actually want to admit guilt.

  • The more fascinating point that the movie

  • is trying to make here, though,

  • is Nixon's sense of power of executive authority.

  • He believed, and frankly, many people believe this today

  • that the Constitution doesn't really bind the president

  • as much as one might necessarily think,

  • that, basically, if the president can do anything

  • he or she wants that's not written down in the Constitution.

  • More importantly, if nobody's gonna stop them,

  • then they can really do a lot.

  • And that's a central theme of presidents throughout history,

  • but certainly in Nixon,

  • and frankly, certainly in more modern days.

  • The connections between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump

  • are personal, are astounding.

  • The truth of the matter is that

  • what Nixon cared about most was Nixon.

  • And what Donald Trump cares about most is Donald Trump.

  • And I assure you, Richard Nixon felt bad about Watergate,

  • but he felt bad about the fact that he was caught.

  • There's no sense I think for Donald Trump

  • that he's ever going to admit that he made a mistake.

  • Mistakes happen to him.

  • Problems happen to him, just like Nixon.

  • - I'm saying that when the president does it,

  • that means it's not illegal.

  • - The key line of the movie when Nixon says,

  • if a president does it, it's not illegal

  • is something he said, it just wasn't about Watergate.

  • He was talking about foreign policy.

  • Now keep in mind, Richard Nixon is the guy

  • who bombed Cambodia without telling Congress,

  • without telling the American people.

  • Expanding a war that was already unpopular

  • because he thought he had the authority to do it.

  • So if the president says as commander-in-chief

  • let's bomb someplace whose gonna say no?

  • So that he actually said the line he thought that sentiment

  • just not about Watergate.

  • This is "Lincoln" directed by Steven Spielberg.

  • In this scene, Lincoln is discussing the politics

  • of the 13th Amendment that would ban slavery.

  • - You lied to me.

  • Mr. Lincoln, you evaded my requests for a denial,

  • that there is a Confederate peace offer because,

  • because there is one.

  • - No one is surprised when a politician lies,

  • certainly not their own staff.

  • They see it up close every day.

  • Lincoln was a master politician.

  • I mean, we think of him as the most ethical and moral,

  • and God-fearing president we had, and he was that,

  • but also knew how to do some dirty politicking

  • when he needed to.

  • One thing that shocked people was the notion that,

  • oh, my goodness, politicians were being bought and sold,

  • left, right, and center.

  • You know what?

  • Politicians were bought and sold, left, right, and center.

  • It still happens today just a little quieter.

  • - Hell, you can have that for nothing.

  • What we need money for is bribes to speed things up.

  • - A lot of the people who voted for the 13th Amendment

  • found themselves with really nice jobs,

  • say running a postal commission,

  • or running a port after they left office.

  • President Lincoln knew how to dole out the goods.

  • - I can't listen to this anymore.

  • I can't accomplish a goddamn thing of any human meaning,

  • or worth until we cure ourselves of slavery,

  • and end this pestilential war.

  • - I've seen Richard Nixon, I've seen Ronald Reagan.

  • I don't know what Lincoln actually looked like moving,

  • and I don't know his voice,

  • but they tell us all the people who meet him

  • in their diaries and letters