1. June 2016: FISA request. The Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied.
2. July 2016: The Russia joke.
Wikileaks releases emails from the Democratic National Committee that
show an effort to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) from winning the
presidential nomination. In a press conference, Donald Trump refers to
Hillary Clinton’s own missing emails, joking: “Russia, if you’re
listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are
missing.” That remark becomes the basis for accusations by Clinton and
the media that Trump invited further hacking.
3. October 2016:
Podesta emails. In October, Wikileaks releases the emails of Clinton
campaign chair John Podesta, rolling out batches every day until the
election, creating new mini-scandals. The Clinton campaign blames Trump
and the Russians.
4. October 2016: FISA request. The Obama
administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now
focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to
Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue,
ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National
Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an
opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers
of the federal intelligence services.
5. January 2017:
Buzzfeed/CNN dossier. Buzzfeed releases, and CNN reports, a supposed
intelligence “dossier” compiled by a foreign former spy. It purports to
show continuous contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, and says
that the Russians have compromising information about Trump. None of the
allegations can be verified and some are proven false. Several media
outlets claim that they had been aware of the dossier for months and
that it had been circulating in Washington.
6. January 2017:
Obama expands NSA sharing. As Michael Walsh later notes, and as the New
York Times reports, the outgoing Obama administration “expanded the
power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted
personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence
agencies before applying privacy protections.” The new powers, and
reduced protections, could make it easier for intelligence on private
citizens to be circulated improperly or leaked.
7. January 2017:
Times report. The New York Times reports, on the eve of Inauguration
Day, that several agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency
(NSA) and the Treasury Department are monitoring several associates of
the Trump campaign suspected of Russian ties. Other news outlets also
report the exisentence of “a multiagency working group to coordinate
investigations across the government,” though it is unclear how they
found out, since the investigations would have been secret and involved
8. February 2017: Mike Flynn scandal.
Reports emerge that the FBI intercepted a conversation in 2016 between
future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — then a private citizen —
and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The intercept supposedly was
part of routine spying on the ambassador, not monitoring of the Trump
campaign. The FBI transcripts reportedly show the two discussing Obama’s
newly-imposed sanctions on Russia, though Flynn earlier denied
discussing them. Sally Yates, whom Trump would later fire as acting
Attorney General for insubordination, is involved in the investigation.
In the end, Flynn resigns over having misled Vice President Mike Pence
(perhaps inadvertently) about the content of the conversation.
February 2017: Times claims extensive Russian contacts. The New York
Times cites “four current and former American officials” in reporting
that the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with senior Russian
intelligence officials. The Trump campaign denies the claims — and the
Times admits that there is “no evidence” of coordination between the
campaign and the Russians. The White House and some congressional
Republicans begin to raise questions about illegal intelligence leaks.
March 2017: the Washington Post targets Jeff Sessions. The Washington
Post reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had contact twice with
the Russian ambassador during the campaign — once at a Heritage
Foundation event and once at a meeting in Sessions’s Senate office. The
Post suggests that the two meetings contradict Sessions’s testimony at
his confirmation hearings that he had no contacts with the Russians,
though in context (not presented by the Post) it was clear he meant in
his capacity as a campaign surrogate, and that he was responding to
claims in the “dossier” of ongoing contacts. The New York Times, in
covering the story, adds that the Obama White House “rushed to preserve”
intelligence related to alleged Russian links with the Trump campaign.
By “preserve” it really means “disseminate”: officials spread evidence
throughout other government agencies “to leave a clear trail of
intelligence for government investigators” and perhaps the media as
In summary: the Obama administration sought, and eventually
obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued
monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found;
then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within
the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the
conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media. All in a
bid to stop or overthrow a Trump administration.