I have produced a one-hour documentary video about Donald Trump and his most barefaced transgressions against the United States Constitution. These are his breaches—multiple in number—of the emoluments clauses. (Also multiple in number. There are in fact three provisions in the U.S. Constitution that mention the somewhat antiquated and widely misunderstood word “emolument.” But thus far our chief executive is in jeopardy with only two of them).



In the video, I present sound, compelling, and responsibly-sourced evidence from history, current events, Constitutional Law, court documents, and political writings from Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, Luther Martin, and more. The evidence shown builds a strong and clear case that President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution. The evidence shown also fully refutes the various defensive positions the administration and its allies have taken.

There happen to be a great many ideological and other reasons I do not support the president. This project is not about, and not motivated by, those.

As I state in the documentary, upholding the Constitution is not a partisan issue. Passively tolerating cynical, casual violations of the Constitution lurches us towards an existential threat to our republic. It threatens to bring to fruition the Founding Fathers’ anxieties that the American experiment would end in tyranny or anarchy.

Why make a video? Because neither the mass media nor the general public has an adequate working knowledge of the emoluments clauses.

Again and again I have seen “emoluments” conflated with mere presidential conflicts of interest. The issues are related. But they are not one and the same.

With the same frequency I have seen the concept of “emoluments” confused with either diplomatic gifts or simply business dealings in general. Again, there are plenty of areas of overlap among these. A diplomatic gift would always be an emolument, for instance. Business dealings don’t not necessarily qualify, though many do.

So very few seem to be in coherent and accurate possession of the facts about emoluments. So in an effort to correct this, I tried to make the most accessible and comprehensive account I could with the digital age tools available to me.

After all, the Constitution-defying Trump administration only benefits by Americans’ ignorance or confusion about this subject. Perhaps Trump and those within the highest circles of Executive Branch power have gone so far as to make the emoluments issue a “trial balloon.” Are they trying to gauge how far they may be able to push other trespasses against our nation’s founding and ruling document? I would not put it past such people.

It was through a strange set of circumstances that I found myself in a position to publicly speak up on this subject.

As the author of The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, I have accumulated a certain knowledge base on our constitution. But back in late 2015 and in the early months of this year—when the emoluments issues started getting press—I was admittedly not especially sharp on the point. So I started doing some refresher research.

At the time I also happened to be hard at work on a new graphic novel biography of Alexander Hamilton. My efforts to make that book as informed as possible led me to become a reader at the Huntington Library, a private institution  which boasts one of the nation’s most extensive archives of books and documents on U.S. history.

When I started to brush up on the emoluments clauses again, I caught wind of a Constitutional scholar by the name of Seth Barrett Tillman.

Tillman has moved to file an amicus brief in an attempt to dismiss Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington et.al. vs. Donald Trump—a U.S. federal district court case taking the president to task for his alleged violations of the emoluments clauses.

And Tillman is notable for crafting an argument that the Foreign Emoluments Clause does not apply to the president —or what he terms “apex elected positions” like members of Congress and the Vice President. His case is neither simplistic nor incoherent.

But it just so happens that a major tier of his assertions is based on a 1792 list of federal employees made by Alexander Hamilton. As Secretary of the Treasury in the first Washington Administration, he was tasked—by the Senate—with assembling such a list, along with the salaries they received.

Because of what I was working on and the familiarity I by chance had with this very document, I immediately saw fatal flaws in Tillman’s conjecture.

So my aim with this documentary is not only to bring public attention to Donald Trump’s abuse of the Constitution via the emoluments clauses, but also to preemptively place the spotlight on Tillman’s fault-ridden claims.

I believe the American people should know these claims—and understand why they don’t hold up to close scrutiny. They cannot be allowed to create yet another layer of controversy and confusion to the already misunderstood emoluments issue.

It may in fact be the case that the emoluments clause violations are no longer the most “exciting” thing happening in the flurry of news stories on the Trump Administration.

Regardless, this is a critical time for the United States Constitution. It is vital to have this issue brought to light.

For the sake of future generations of Americans and whatever chief executive—regardless of party—that may come to power years from now, a precedent must be set about what constitutes infringements of Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 7 (the “domestic” emoluments clause) and Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8 (the “foreign” emoluments clause).

Should formal articles of impeachment be drafted by Congress against President Trump—as I believe justice and the future of the Constitution dictates—these breaches of the highest law of our land must be included. Doing so will render clear the boundaries between what is and what is not acceptable for all those who pursue the White House.

Some Americans may not be of the opinion that Trump’s flagrant and venal transgressions amount to much. They are free to decide not to feel, or act, outraged.

However, if they do take that course, they cannot simultaneously care a bit about the vision of the Founding Fathers, originalist interpretation of the Constitution, or the document itself.

The two positions are utterly incompatible.

If in this country today there in fact exists a political faction that would place party and power over the Constitution, that faction should publicly declare its values and stand openly as the authoritarian revolutionaries they are.


Some notes on the documentary, especially for those who are already well versed on the subject of emoluments. The video is divided into these parts:


00:00-01:54               Introduction, and the applicability of the graphic novel format to topics of serious consequence.

01:55-13:25              A look at the word “emolument,” and what it really means, through an originalist lens. How “emolument” was used in Revolutionary- and Early Republic-Era documents by prominent American Founding Fathers—as well as in much more recent federal court cases.

13:25-16:01               The Trump Administration

16:02-21:22               The Domestic Emoluments Clause, and Trump’s offenses of it.

21:23-28:38               The Foreign Emoluments Clause, Trump’s offenses against it, and the administration’s feeble, arguably dishonest, and unacceptable efforts to ameliorate the problem.

28:39-30:03               Refuting the Trump Administration’s argument that the material benefits the president is receiving don’t qualify as emoluments.

30:04-48:00               Explaining and refuting Seth Barrett Tillman’s case that the Foreign Emoluments Clause does not apply to the president.

48:01-51:50               Conclusion


The project can also be streamed on Vimeo for those who prefer a less cluttered platform than YouTube.