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.
The returns, which MSNBC posted on its website, showed Trump paid an effective tax rate of 25 percent. The White House said in a statement that Trump, as head of the Trump Organization, had a responsibility "to pay no more tax than legally required."
Trump wrote off $100 million in losses to reduce his federal taxes, according to the documents.
The White House said Trump took into account "large scale depreciation for construction."
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 criticized Trump for paying no federal income taxes.
"That makes me smart," he responded.
Trump has feuded with the media since his inauguration, often accusing it of promoting "fake news" intended to undermine his presidency.
"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 White House said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)