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St. Louis — A defiant Donald Trump denied Sunday he has made unwanted sexual advances on women and admitted he used a nearly $1 billion loss from his business empire to shield himself from federal income taxes during a feisty second debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The debate began with Clinton and Trump not shaking hands on stage at Washington University. The two White House rivals battled for 90 minutes before an audience of undecided voters over Trump’s lewd comments about women, Clinton’s record as secretary of state, tax policy, health care, treatment of Muslims and foreign relations with Russia.

The tense exchanges began as Trump faced questions over a decade-old recording that surfaced Friday showing him bragging to a TV host about using his celebrity to kiss and fondle women without their consent.

“That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it,” the Republican presidential candidate said repeatedly.

Trump said he has not sexually assaulted women in the way he described in the graphic 2005 comments, which have prompted some top Republicans to withdraw their endorsements.

“Have you ever done those things?” debate moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN asked Trump, referencing Trump’s lewd descriptions.

“No I have not,” Trump said.

Clinton said the Trump comments, captured on a live microphone during a taping of segment for “Access Hollywood,” represent “exactly who he is.”

Trump also addressed questions about how he has benefited from the federal tax code, acknowledging he has taken what was likely a large tax write-off after declaring a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns.

But the New York real estate mogul did not say exactly how many years he may have avoided paying federal income taxes.

“Of course, I do, and so do all of her donors or most of her donors,” Trump said, noting that “I pay tax and I pay federal tax, too, but I have a write-off.”

Tax code admission

Trump blamed Clinton for doing nothing to change the carried interest tax code loopholes from which he and other wealthy American benefit.

“I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York,” Clinton said. “But that’s not the point here.”

“Why didn’t you do it?” Trump asked, interrupting her.

“Because I was senator with a Republican president,” said Clinton, referencing former President George W. Bush.

“If you were an effective senator, you couldn’t have done it,” Trump replied.

“You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power,” Clinton said.

The early focus of the debate centered around Trump’s comments to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush before taping a cameo appearance on a soap opera.

The town-hall-style debate opened with a question about the candidates’ ability to serve as role models, and Cooper pressed Trump in a follow-up question.

“I have great respect for women,” Trump said. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. You hear these things, they were said, I was embarrassed by it.”

Audio triggers questions

The spotlight was on Trump at the start of the debate because of the uproar the hot microphone recording triggered over the weekend.

In the recording, Trump could be heard talking about his unsuccessful efforts to have sex with a married woman named Nancy and how his lips are “like a magnet” when he sees beautiful women.

“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump said on the tape, which was first published Friday afternoon by The Washington Post.

Trump’s recorded conversation with Billy Bush included a graphic description of how he said he gropes women in the crotch. “Grab them by the (expletive),” Trump said. “You can do anything.”

Trump used questions about his comments to pivot to an attack on Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, who was impeached, in part, because of a sex scandal with a White House intern.

“If you look at Bill Clinton … mine  were words and his was action, what he’s done to women,” Trump said. “There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been as abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.”
Hillary Clinton denied Trump’s accusations.

“So much of what he just said is not right,” she said. “When I hear something like that, I’m reminded what my friend Michelle Obama advises us all: ‘When they go low, we go high.’”

Clinton used her response to go after Trump for his comments bashing the Muslim parents of a fallen Army solider and claiming a federal judge born in Indiana couldn’t give be partial in a lawsuit against Trump University because the judge is of Mexican descent.

“And he never apologized for the racist lie that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States of America,” Clinton said.

Health care law

After that tense exchange, Trump and Clinton sparred over the Affordable Care Act and her record as secretary of state and her controversial use of a private email server stored at her home in New York while she was the nation’s top diplomat.

Clinton said “reining in the costs” of health insurance through the Affordable Care Act has to be a top priority of the next president but said repealing it would be a mistake.

“I’m going to fix it,” she said, highlighting ways she said Obamacare has benefited the country, including restrictions prohibiting insurers from denying anyone for a pre-existing condition or instituting lifetime limits.

“I want very much to save what is good and works in the Affordable Care Act, but we’ve got to get costs down,” she said.

Trump called the Affordable Care Act a “disaster” that is “only getting worse.”

He advocated for repeal and suggested he would replace Obamacare with something “absolutely much less expensive and something that works.” On specifics, he said only he’d like to lift limitations on inter-state insurance offerings to increase competition.

“Obamacare will never work, it’s very bad health insurance, far too expense and not only expensive for the person that has it, unbelievably expensive for our country,” Trump said, noting President Clinton called the federal health care law "crazy" during a speech in Flint.

Email controversy

Trump vowed to have Clinton investigated if he’s elected president.

“If I win, I’m going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation,” Trump said. “Because there’s never been so much lies, so much deception.”

Clinton reiterated that her use of a personal email server was a “mistake” that she is responsible for, but she attempted to fight back against what she called “misleading accusations.”

“There is no evidence that anyone hacked the server I was using, and there is no evidence that anyone can point to at all … that any classified material ended up in the wrong hands,” she said. “I take classified materials very seriously.”

Trump used the debate to go after Clinton's stance on international trade agreements after WikiLeaks published partial transcripts of her lucrative paid speeches that hackers stole.

WikiLeaks obtained Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails that included transcripts of paid speeches Clinton gave after she left the State Department in 2013.

In one speech to Brazilian banks, Clinton said it was her “dream” of having “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders” and doubling American trade with Latin America, the Associated Press reported.

In that speech, Clinton said it was necessary to have “both a public and a private position,” invoking the arm-twisting political tactics of President Abraham Lincoln.

Trump said Clinton’s private speeches were evidence that she’ll support the free trade policies she’s now denouncing on the campaign trail.

“Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great Abraham Lincoln,” Trump said. “Honest Abe never lied. That’s the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you.”

Pre-debate show

Hours before the debate, Trump staged a brief press conference Sunday night with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. Trump appeared at a press conference with Clinton accusers Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones.

“These four very courageous women have asked to be here, and it was our honor to help them,” Trump said.

Each of the women offered their endorsement of Trump, even after a decade-old recording surfaced Friday where the New York businessman could be heard bragging to a television host about using his celebrity to make unwanted sexual advances on women.

“Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me,” Broaddrick said. “I don’t think there’s any comparison.”

Broaddrick’s lawsuit accusing Bill Clinton of raping her was dismissed in 2001. Criminal charges were never filed, and the former president has denied the allegations.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the campaign paid for the women, including Broaddrick, to attend the debate.

Broaddrick later told reporter her travel expenses to the debate were paid by Breitbart News, a pro-Trump news and opinion website whose chairman Stephen Bannon joined the Trump campaign as CEO in August.

A fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, sat next to Trump. Shelton was raped at age 12 by a 41-year-old man whom Hillary Clinton represented as his lawyer in the mid-1970s. Clinton got his charges reduced from first-degree rape to unlawful fondling of a child under age 14.

Trump did not respond to questions from reporters during the three-minute briefing, which the Trump campaign streamed live on Facebook.

Treatment of Muslims

Trump was asked directly by a Muslim woman how he would help Muslim-Americans avoid being labeled as threats against the United States.

He responded by saying the government would only target "radical Islamic terrorists. … She won’t say the name. Before you solve it, you have to say the name."

Clinton responded by saying there have been "some very dark, divisive things said against Muslims."

"It’s also shortsighted and even dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has," she said. "We need Americans to be part of our eyes and ears on the front lines. … We are not at war with Islam. It is a mistake and plays into the hands of terrorists to act as though we are.

When Trump was asked about his call for temporarily banning all Muslim immigrants," he said he would engage in "extreme vetting. ... People are coming, we have no idea who they are, where they are from, what they believe."

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Clinton, Trump trade compliments

When asked to describe something she respects about Trump, Clinton instead chose to praise his children.

“His children are incredibly able and devoted,” she said. “And I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that.”

Trump, asked to respond to the same question, said he respects that Clinton does not quit or give up easily. Some fellow Republicans asked Trump to withdraw from the race this weekend after the revelation of lewd comments he made in 2005.

“She’s a fighter,” he said. “I disagree with much of what she’s fighting for. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases, but she does fight hard and she doesn’t give up, and I consider that to be a very good trait.”

As the fierce debate ended on that relatively positive note, Clinton and Trump shook hands to end the contest, something they did not do at the outset.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

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