Tax returns protests
A man carries a sign protesting President Donald Trump's refusal to release his income tax returns in Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Mihalek

Tuesday’s revelation about President Donald Trump’s tax returns from 2005 has triggered a dispute over the legality of MSNBC’s move. While the White House maintained the television network broke the law while disclosing Trump’s tax returns, MSNBC cited First Amendment privilege to justify publishing the records.

On Tuesday evening, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow revealed Trump paid $38 million in taxes for more than $150 million income in 2005. The document was provided by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.

Read: David Cay Johnston — The Man Behind Trump's Tax Returns Disclosure

Ahead of the TV show, the White House issued a statement disclosing Trump’s 2005 tax return and slammed the cable network.

“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 a over decade ago,” the White House’s statement read. “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 further said: “Despite this substantial income figure and tax paid, it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.”

However, Maddow responded to the statement saying: “For the record, the First Amendment gives us the right to publish this return.”

Here is what you need to know about the First Amendment and the federal law, which the White House said MSNBC broke:

The First Amendment, which was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, to the Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

However, unauthorized disclosure of tax returns falls under felony in the federal law and any violation of the law “shall be a felony punishable by a fine in any amount not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.”

But the way the tax returns document was obtained could play an important role in the matter. Johnston said he got the records when they “came in the mail over the transom.” While the identity of the sender of the tax document remains a mystery, Johnston speculated that Trump himself may have leaked the document.

"By the way, let me point out that it's entirely possible that Donald Trump sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things," Johnston said.

Moreover, the second page of the document was stamped "Client Copy" sparking speculation that the copies were Trump's and he may have leaked them to take away attention from Obamacare and his claims that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

For long, Trump has declined to release his tax returns and is reportedly the first president in 40 years to refuse to do so.