Fact-checking the fifth Democratic debate in Atlanta

Image: Ten candidates took the stage in a Democratic presidential debate ho
Ten candidates took the stage in a Democratic presidential debate hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta on Wednesday night. Copyright Chelsea Stahl NBC News
By Jane C. Timm with NBC News Politics
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Here are the claims from the 10 candidates on stage that hold up — and the ones that don't.


Ten candidates took the stage Wednesday for the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta, a matchup hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

This debate is expected to find South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg getting front-runner treatment, and takes place amid the unfolding impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. As always, we'll be fact-checking White House hopefuls in real time.

Check back for the latest fact checks and visit our live blog of all the latest.

Does the math behind Elizabeth Warren's 2-cent wealth tax add up?

"I have proposed a 2-cent wealth tax," Warren said on Wednesday night. "Your first 50 billion is free and clear — but your 50 billionth and first dollar, you gotta pitch in 2 cents, and when you hit a billion dollars, you gotta pitch in a few pennies more."

First, Warren misspoke here in the first part of her wealth tax plan. She meant to say "the first $50 million," not $50 billion. We know because it's how Warren's been pitching her wealth tax for weeks — your first 50 million dollars are "free and clear," but once you hit 50 million and one dollar, a wealth tax of 2 cents kicks in.

It sounds simple, right?

Well, it's not really. Yes, the tax is 2 cents on the dollar of assets over $50 million and 6 cents of every dollar over $1 billion. (She recently hiked that top bracket from 3 cents on every dollar above a billion to 6 cents, to pay for her health care plan.)

But, this tax is applied annually, so it would keep wealth from growing in many cases and act like an income tax in many ways. Wealthy investors with assets seeing a 6 percent return annually, for instance, would essentially see a 100 percent tax on those assets.

It may sound like pennies, but the dollars add up big time: Two economists who advised Warren estimatedrecently that if her wealth tax had been in effect since 1982, Bill Gates' wealth would be a fraction of what it is now.

Did Donald Trump admit to diverting charity money from veterans, as Pete Buttigieg said?

"The president had to confess in writing, in court, to illegally diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans," Buttigieg said Wednesday night, responding to a question about impeaching President Donald Trump.

This is true. The president did admit to illegally misusing the Trump Foundation — in particular the $2.8 million raised for veterans in an event in Iowa days before the 2016 caucuses — in a court filing. Those dollars were controlled and disbursed by Trump's campaign staff at campaign events, instead of being overseen by the Foundation. The money was eventually donated to charitable causes.

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