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Trump: Warren Buffett avoids taxes like me. Buffett: Nope, and here's my taxes to prove it.

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Buffett at the White House in June.
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Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Donald Trump is a master of the “I am rubber and you are glue” approach to political rhetoric, but at Sunday night’s presidential debate, he tried a novel variant on the strategy. After Anderson Cooper asked him point blank if he used his $916 million reported loss from his 1995 tax return to avoid income taxes in other years, Trump shot back that he did — but so did the fourth-richest man in the world and Hillary Clinton supporter Warren Buffett, whom Clinton had minutes earlier praised for his advocacy of higher taxes on the rich:

COOPER: You have not answered, though, a simple question. Did you use that $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years?

TRUMP: Of course I do. Of course I do. … I absolutely used it. And so did Warren Buffett and so did George Soros and so did many of the other people that Hillary is getting money from.

The day after, Buffett came out with a statement saying, in effect, bullshit. He has never used a carryforward, the technique Trump used to avoid taxes, and he has paid taxes every year since 1944, when he was 13 and paid $7 to fund World War II.

It gets better. Buffett reports that he took only $3.5 million in charitable deductions — even though he donated more than $2.8 billion. This is a not-so-subtle dig at Trump’s “charitable” efforts, which amount to self-serving work by his foundation and not a whole lot else. Buffett, by contrast, has pledged most of his estate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and most of the remainder to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (named after his late wife), which is one of the biggest backers of family planning and reproductive health and rights causes in the United States.

As a final knife twist, Buffett notes that he is currently being audited — but is releasing information from his return anyway, since that is totally allowed, despite Trump's protests to the contrary.

That Buffett would take exception to Trump’s remarks is hardly surprising. He’s a vocal Democrat and is particularly vocal on tax issues. This is a natural place for him to speak up. But he’s also an immensely respected figure nationwide, and him denouncing Trump is hardly something the campaign needs after the devastating week it’s been having.

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