EXPLAINER: The intel review of documents at Trump’s estate

They widely expected a former president who called for their support and at times accused officers of treason to force U.S. intelligence agencies into an uncomfortable and familiar role: foiling his agenda.

EXPLAINER: The intel review of documents at Trump’s estate

The FBI is currently conducting a criminal investigation while the intelligence community’s lead office reviews – currently on hold pending a court order – the damage that would result from revealing the documents found at Palm Beach’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

EXPLAINER: The intel review of documents at Trump’s estate

In America, the investigation comes as a growing number of officials attack the FBI and spread baseless theories about voter fraud, as well as increasing threats to law enforcement and election workers. It’s already unclear what was in the documents, with some Democrats suggesting the documents were about nuclear secrets, while Trump allies say it was a benign storage dispute.


The government stated that the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago and papers previously turned over by the Republican former president included designations for secret human sources and electronic signals programs as well as highly sensitive “Special Access Program” designations. 

EXPLAINER: The intel review of documents at Trump’s estate

The CIA or National Security Agency produce those types of intelligence, and gaining access to the underlying sources can take years.


ODNI will decide the extent of the damage caused by the exposure of those documents’ secrets. There has been no indication that the agency is investigating whether they have already leaked documents.


Two House committee chairpersons received a letter from Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence. 


The letter states that the ODNI will conduct a classification review of the materials recovered during the search. Experts say that could include nonclassified papers with notes on them referencing classified information.


There may be some delay in receiving the results, and the findings may remain classified for some time.


The intelligence community is being requested by lawmakers from both parties for briefings. We are not aware of any scheduled meetings. As former officials have noted, agencies are often unable to diagnose the specific damage caused by actual or potential breaches. 

EXPLAINER: The intel review of documents at Trump’s estate

Tim Bergreen, former Democratic majority staff director for the House Intelligence Committee, says reviews such as the one underway often help lawmakers and top officials better understand vulnerabilities.


“No healthy organization or society can exist without a comprehensive review of its mistakes,” Bergreen said. “That’s always been a democracy’s big advantage over authoritarians.”

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