A White House senior correspondent has accused MSNBC's Rachel Maddow of breaking the law by releasing President Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns.
The drama unfolded on March 14. Jim Acosta took to Twitter to accuse Maddow of violating a federal law that prohibits the unauthorized release of tax returns, The Telegraph reported.
Acosta tweeted, "WH responds to MSNBC report on Trump tax returns: 'you know you are desperate when you willing to violate the law…'" The tweet included a statement that read, "it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns."
According to federal law, it is illegal to publish an unauthorized tax return or "return information." The crime is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to five years. Income, payments, receipts, deductions and other financial information fall under the legal category of "return information."
But the network claims that the release of the president's 2005 1040 forms falls under their First Amendment privileges. Legal experts said the manner in which the returns were obtained also matters.
According to experts, if the media did not steal the material or receive it from the government, but instead received it from a private citizen, then liability would be less clear. Maddow said the tax documents were mailed anonymously to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston.
Johnston also said he received the documents unsolicited, and even speculated that Trump or his associates could have possibly mailed the tax returns themselves since they paint the president in a favorable light.
The tax documents revealed that Trump earned more than $150 million in income in 2005, and paid a whopping $38 million in income taxes.
Trump also took to Twitter to discredit the news station and Johnston.
"Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, 'went to his mailbox' and found my tax returns? [NBC News is] FAKE NEWS!" the president tweeted.
Edward Kleinbard, Johnson Professor of Law and Business at USC Gould School of Law, spoke about the reveal with CNN Money. He said the documents gave no indication about any business ties between the president and Russia.
"The release of the top pages of Trump's 2005 tax return is a useful start, but is a drop in the disclosure bucket of what Trump owes the American people," Kleinbard, who is also a former chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation, told the news station.
"Only complete returns can resolve the questions swirling around his alleged financial obligations and sources of income, such as Russian oligarchs or other sovereign countries," Kleinbard added.