The White House says President Donald Trump made more than $150 million in income in 2005 and paid $38 million in income taxes that year as it tries to hose down a fire started by MSNBC.
“Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the White House statement said.
“That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.”
Donald Trump has not released his tax returns in the past. Photo: AAP
The release came moments before MSNBC host Rachel Maddow went to air to reveal details of President Trump's 2005 tax forms.
"What we've got is from 2005... the President's 1040 form... details to come tonight 9PM ET, MSNBC... (seriously)," she tweeted an hour before air time.
The records have become highly sought-after because Trump refused to release his returns during the campaign, breaking a decades-long tradition.
"You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago," the White House said in a statement.
The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paid $5.3 million in regular federal income tax - meaning they paid a rate of less than 4 per cent.
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However, the document shows Trump paid a further $31 million in an "alternative minimum tax", a provision the president has said previously he wants to abolish,the Daily Beast reports.
Trump long insisted the American public wasn't interested in his returns and said little could be learned from them while also claiming he could not release them because he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.
But Trump's full returns would contain key details about things like his charitable giving and how much he made each year.
The issue a major point of attack from his rival Hillary Clinton, who suggested Trump had something to hide.
The White House said Trump, as head of the Trump Organization, had a responsibility "to pay no more tax than legally required".
Presidents and major candidates for the White House have routinely released their income tax returns for the past four decades.
Rachel Maddow says she has Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns. Photo: AAP
Experts say an IRS audit does not bar someone from releasing the documents.
At times Trump paid no federal income taxes, according to news reports.
That includes at least two years in the late 1970s, the Washington Post reported last year citing a 1981 New Jersey gambling commission report.
The New York Times reported in October that Trump declared a substantial loss in 1995 that could have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years afterward, based on records obtained by the newspaper.
During a September presidential debate, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton criticised Trump for paying no federal income taxes.
"That makes me smart," he responded.
Newsbreak – March 15