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After Mar-a-Lago, officials are analyzing the potential damage to national security

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Some news about documents recovered from former President Trump calls for explanation.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You will recall the FBI searched Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. And according to a property receipt, numerous documents that the FBI found were marked classified or top secret. A redacted affidavit released on Friday asserts that some of those documents compromise some of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence information. Former acting CIA director Michael Morell talked about two types of secrets the Justice Department identified. He spoke with CBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MICHAEL MORELL: Human control system means information from CIA spies. And special intelligence means information from technical operations of the National Security Agency. This is the most sensitive material of the United States intelligence community.

INSKEEP: And intelligence officials are taking stock of the potential damage to national security.

FADEL: NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now with the latest.

Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So a lot of classified materials were found at Mar-a-Lago. And now it sounds like the U.S. intelligence agencies are going to look into what damage the removal of these documents might have caused, right?

LUCAS: That's right. Our colleague Deirdre Walsh obtained a letter sent to Congress by the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. And in that letter, Haines says that her office is going to lead an intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security from the possible disclosure of the materials found at Mar-a-Lago. Now, she doesn't give a timeline, but she says the assessment is going to be done in a way that does not interfere with the Justice Department's ongoing criminal investigation.

FADEL: So how much classified material are we talking about here?

LUCAS: Well, we know from the redacted affidavit that was released on Friday that the National Archives recovered 184 classified documents from the 15 boxes it collected from Mar-a-Lago in January. Ninety-two of those were classified at the secret level. Twenty-five of them were top secret. And while we don't know exactly what was in those documents, we do know from the affidavit that some of them are related to CIA spies and others to how the U.S. spies on foreign communications. And as we heard at the top there in that clip from Mike Morell, that sort of information is some of the most sensitive stuff for American intelligence agencies. We also know that the FBI recovered more highly classified documents when it searched Mar-a-Lago three weeks ago. And as the affidavit says, there isn't any place at Mar-a-Lago that's authorized to store classified materials.

FADEL: Now, Trump has asked for an independent third party known as a special master to review the material that was seized. A federal court weighed in over the weekend. What happened?

LUCAS: Well, Judge Aileen Cannon issued a two-page order in which she says that it is her preliminary intent to appoint a special master, as Trump has requested. Now, a special master would be a neutral person, as you said, usually an attorney or former judge, to review the materials taken by the FBI from Mar-A-Lago and identify any that might be protected by executive privilege. This was not a final decision from Judge Cannon on this question, but it indicates that she's certainly leaning in that direction. First, though, she scheduled a hearing for Thursday to talk it all over. She also ordered the Justice Department to provide her under seal with a more detailed list of what the FBI collected in its search and to let her know how far along the FBI is in its own review of those materials.

FADEL: Will this impact the investigation?

LUCAS: Well, the request for a special master came pretty late in the game. Normally, you would ask for one right after a search. Here, Trump's attorneys waited two weeks. Former prosecutors tell me the FBI would have started reviewing the materials as soon as they got them. So this request is an odd move at this point. Experts think it could slow things down a bit, but we'll see.

FADEL: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.