We begin with FISA. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is a law which allows electronic surveillance of people who are deemed to be “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers”. For our purposes there are some important parts about this bill. First off the authority to request for the wire tapping emanates from the President, thru his attorney general. The command responsibility lies with the President for any FISA requests that are sent out. Second all FISA requests must have the signature of either the President or his attorney general with no exceptions. Either the President or his AG is aware of each and every FISA request. Third each request must go before a judge for a probable cause hearing. It is important to note here that there is very little oversight with FISA courts. You don’t know that a procedure has been initiated against you, nor do you have the opportunity to defend yourself from it. Combine this with the fact that probable cause is a very low standard and is highly subjective to begin with and you have a situation where it is very easy to get permission.
On the requests itself. We have multiple sources all claiming that there was an initial request made in June. This was rejected. The Obama administration attempted again in July of 2016 with a more narrowly drawn order. This was rejected again. In October, 3 weeks before the election the Obama administration tried again with a different judge and finally got permission.
This shows several things. First off the case against Trump and his associates were so weak that the Obama administration could not even meet the very low requirement of probable cause. Second that the administration really wanted permission for the surveillance as they found a second friendlier judge to grant it to them. It also has to be brought up that the secret meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Lynch happened right before the first request was rejected. Third we have seen that the intelligence community has no problem leaking things. It is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that the information gathered could have ended up with the Clinton camp or the DNC.
There are conflicting sources as to who was the actual target of the wiretapping. Some sources say it is Trump himself. Others say that it is Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. Lastly other sources state that it is 2 banks from Russia.
The target being Trump is the most problematic as you would then have the standard bearer of the opposing party labelled as an agent of a foreign power while he was running. You would have his headquarters which was Trump Tower at the time bugged and any and all of his communications could be leaked to the opposing party. Which just happened to be the one to sign the order.
Stone and the rest being the targets would be equally problematic as you would still be able to listen in to confidential information at Trump headquarters. Remember by the time the Obama administration found a friendly judge to grant the surveillance it was 3 weeks before the election. Internal polls, schedules, crunch time strategies all could be gotten and leaked to the opposition.
The Russian banks would be the least problematic but still presents some issues. The administration tried to connect the servers at Trump Tower with the Russian banks allowing them to hack into them. These servers contained sensitive information on the Trump campaign. Remember that the internal polls provided by Conway were correct while other polls were not so being able to see into the Trump campaign had great value.
In summary the FISA requests do exist and the administration were so desperate to get it thru that they shopped for a friendly judge. Obama or Lynch signed the order as they are required to. Lastly whoever they spied it is a good chance that they got confidential information that they could have leaked to the DNC.