Everything you need to know about FISA wiretaps

FISA courts meet in secret -- sometimes in the middle of the night.

President Trump sparked a firestorm this morning when he suggested that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower prior to the November 2016 election.

An Obama spokesperson vehemently denied the former president's involvement, saying: "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."

The president has already faced massive scrutiny over his campaign's alleged contacts with Russian officials -- an assertion Trump has repeatedly denied as "fake news." It has been widely reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump campaign surrogate, and Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, met with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration.

Trump's remarks raise questions about whether a wiretap on Trump Tower could have been legally approved, possibly through a FISA court. Here's what you need to know.

The Court

The court -- made up of 11 federal judges, serving 7-year terms and selected by the chief justice of the Supreme Court -- meets in private, sometimes in the middle of the night. FISA targets are highly classified.

The FISA Court was authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, passed in the wake of Watergate and other intelligence abuses uncovered by the Church Committee. It allows the government to eavesdrop on any "foreign power or an agent of a foreign power" engaged in espionage or terrorism.

The act clarifies that although a U.S. citizen may be classified as an agent of a foreign power, he or she cannot be categorized that way "solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

The Stats

The Scandal

Other Types of Taps