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Mar-a-Lago documents reveal nuclear capabilities of foreign powers

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are some intelligence documents so closely guarded that only the president and a handful of top aides ever see them. They detail U.S. operations classified at levels above top secret. Even senior national security officials are denied clearance. FBI agents found such documents in their search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago property last month. And according to new reporting by The Washington Post, some of those documents included information about one foreign country's nuclear capabilities. Carol Leonnig is one of the reporters who broke the story, and she joins us now on the line.

Carol, thanks for being here.

CAROL LEONNIG: Glad to be here, Rachel.

MARTIN: Tell us more about what these documents contained.

LEONNIG: So, you know, one of the quests we've had as reporters is to understand what was - what's the most serious stuff that was seized at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Beach Club? And, you know, what we found, at least - I'm sure we'll learn more. But what we've found so far is that there were two buckets of extraordinarily sensitive records, government secrets that are held very, very close.

One set involves details about a foreign government's nuclear capabilities. Nuclear capabilities is a pretty vague term on purpose because we don't know whether this involved a foreign adversary that is a nuclear power. We don't know if it's a foreign government that's an ally that's trying to develop a nuclear program. We don't know if it's just any foreign government that the U.S. is gathering intel about and its, I guess, ambitions to become a nuclear power. We don't know. All we know is that it detailed this extremely sensitive material. Why is that sensitive? The obvious reasons - nuclear power and how the U.S. gathers information about a company - a country's nuclear readiness is very serious.

MARTIN: And there would be implications for how countries view the U.S. I mean, if that's an ally, then they're going to be distrustful about how their sensitive information is handled.

LEONNIG: That's absolutely right. An ally is going to be very suspicious of us. And if it's an adversary or another country, they're going to be learning how well or how attuned our intelligence-gathering methods - how well they work and might learn the way we obtain information from inside their country. And that could put our gathering methods, including, you know, human covert spies, in danger.

MARTIN: Is there any...

LEONNIG: So...

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead.

LEONNIG: So the second bucket - forgive me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LEONNIG: The second bucket involves records that involve special access programs. Some of the top-secret material that was so serious, so closely guarded that...

MARTIN: Just a few seconds, Carol.

LEONNIG: ...Some of the most senior national security and intel officials in the current government are not authorized to view it. Why is that shocking? You know, the government said in one of its filings, public filings, that some of the investigators couldn't see this material. But now we know that actually some of the most senior people in the government didn't have clearance for this. If it's sitting around in Mar-a-Lago for 18 months, you can be darn sure there's no one there that has clearance to review any of these records.

MARTIN: We will see the implications of the revelation. Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig broke this story.

Thank you so much. We appreciate it, Carol.

LEONNIG: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.