President Donald Trump paid $38 million in taxes on more than $150m in income in 2005, the White House said on Tuesday, responding to an MSNBC report that the network had obtained two pages of the returns.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said she received the documents from journalist David Cay Johnston, who said on her show that he received them in the mail.

Appearing on MSNBC, Johnston said he did not know the source of the leak, noting that the return was placed in his mailbox.

“Let me point out it's entirely possible Donald sent this to me,” he said.

“Donald has a long history of leaking material about himself when he thinks it's in his interests.”

The White House did not release any documents supporting its numbers. It said Trump, as head of the Trump Organisation, had a responsibility “to pay no more tax than legally required”. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, saying his taxes were under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

Presidents and major candidates for the White House have routinely released their income tax returns. 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.

White House hits out at media

The White House pre-empted the media leak of Trump's 2005 federal tax return on Tuesday, acknowledging key details they previously refused to release.

The admission came just before MSNBC began its broadcast, saying they would reveal a short filing. “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,” an administration official 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.”

The official said that Trump also paid “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.”

“It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the president will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans,” the official ─ who refused to be named ─ claimed.

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