Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Confirms Probe of Trump Campaign/Russia Ties; Moscow's Reaction to Trump/Russia Probe; North Korea Advancing Nuclear Weapons Capability; Top 5 French Candidates Face Off in Fiery Debate; Northern Ireland's Martin McGuinness Dies. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 21, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:21] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour --


VAUSE: Hello, and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. CNN NEWSROOM, L.A. starts right now.

They are not the headlines Donald Trump is looking for, whether a Supreme Court nominee before Congress and a health care reform vote a couple of days away. The FBI Director James Comey dropped two major bombshells Monday at a House Intelligence Committee hearing.

VAUSE: Comey knocked down the president's claim that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also confirmed for the first time that the FBI has been investigating the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has the details.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FBI Director James Comey delivering an extraordinary rebuke of President Trump's wiretapping accusation.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets.

ZELENY: Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, the FBI chief said he's found no evidence to support the president's astonishing allegation he was spied on at Trump Tower by President Obama.

COMEY: We have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.

ZELENY: Those tweets, now infamous, have been rejected in every corner of Washington, except at the White House. For 16 days, the president has gone to great lengths to defend this tweet: "Terrible. Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

But those words debunked in rare public fashion today by his FBI director.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: So President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone?

COMEY: No president could.

ZELENY: Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the NSA, took issue with the subsequent unfounded claim from the Trump White House that the British could have been involved.

SCHIFF: Did you ever request that your counterparts in GCHQ wiretap on behalf of Barack Obama?

ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: No, sir. Nor would I. That would be expressly against the construct of the FISA agreement that's been in place for decades.

ZELENY: But for the first time, Comey confirmed the agency, since last July, has been investigating Russian meddling into the presidential race and any links the Trump campaign had to Moscow.

COMEY: The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

ZELENY: While the hearing was underway, the president fired out a tweet, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process."

But that statement took Comey's words out of context, he later explained.

COMEY: It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today.

ZELENY: The FBI director spoke about Russian's actions in blunt terms saying their goal was to influence the election and help Donald Trump.

COMEY: -- engaged in a multifaceted campaign of active measures to undermine our democracy and hurt one of the candidates and hope to help one of the other candidates.

ZELENY: At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued today the hearings revealed nothing new. He was pressed on how he drew that conclusion considering Comey and Rogers said they were still investigating any links between Russia and the Trump campaign. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Investigating it and having

proof of it are two different things. There's a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody has been briefed hadn't seen or found. I think it's fine to look into it, but at the end of the day, they'll come to the same conclusion everybody else has had.

ZELENY: At a campaign-style rally in Louisville, Kentucky, President Trump shows some rare presidential restraint at a rally, did not mention at all Director James Comey's comments or the wiretapping or surveillance claims he's been talking for weeks about. Instead, he said Republicans must get on board to support health legislation, the first vote on Thursday.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Louisville, Kentucky.


[02:05:09] VAUSE: Joining us now in Los Angeles, talk radio host, Mo Kelly; and CNN political commentator and Trump supporter, John Phillips; and CNN security and intelligence analyst, Bob Baer, also a former CIA operative.

John, first to you.

Today, it seemed the wiretapping issue was a side bar in all of this. The real headline was the investigation into Russian meddling and possible connections with the Trump campaign. Looking back at past FBI investigations into previous White Houses, it seems you have to go all the way back to Watergate before you get an investigation which could potentially have similar consequences to this one. Is that a fair statement?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I've been watching the coverage all day. People have been saying this is the worst day of Trump's administration since taking the oath of office. I think this is a great day for Donald Trump. The Democrats and media are putting all their chips on a conspiracy theory. And you've seen people in the know, people privy to this information, starting to back off. Over the weekend -- and I want to get this right -- Michael Morell, the former head of the CIA under the Obama administration, was asked about it at a conference in Washington, and he said there's no campfire. There's no candle or spark, and there's a lot of people looking for it. James Clapper said the same thing on "Meet the Press" a couple weeks earlier. He was in government as recently as a few weeks ago. There is nothing there. And they're doubling down and tripling down, and I think that Trump is going to walk away from this unscathed.

I hope when they do their big reveal, Rachel Maddow is the one that makes the final statement --


-- considering her audience is already predisposed for a huge disappointment --


Mo, I think you saw you pull something in your neck there --

MO KELLY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yeah, I think that was a generous read. We did have James Comey acknowledging that there's been an ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign/presidency since July. What does that tell you? The investigation has not been completed. They have not come to any conclusion. There might be something there, but they're not at the point where they can say there's nothing there. I think it's pretty -- too soon for the Democrats to celebrate but too soon for the Trump administration to dismiss it as nothing at all.

VAUSE: During his testimony, the FBI director said the Russians didn't try to hide what they were doing. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: Why do you think that they did not mind being loud and being found out?

COMEY: I don't know the answer for sure. I think part, their number- one mission is to undermine the credibility of our entire democracy enterprise of this nation. And so, it might be that they wanted us to help them by telling people what they were doing, their loudness, in a way, would count on us to amplify it by telling people what we saw and freak people out.


VAUSE: First of all, what does Comey mean when he says the Russians were being loud? And do you accept that explanation from the FBI director as plausible?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, I don't know if it's plausible. But what he's saying is the Russians didn't try to hide their hand on this, it's pretty clear. If you look at the metadata and the code and the rest of it, the fact they used Guccifer 2.0. The Russians put us under attack. Why they did it? Was it because of our opposition to the Crimea? Our interfering in the Ukraine, according to their version? It doesn't matter.

But what concerned me about Comey's comments was he says we're going to get attacked again unless we do something about Russia. We're being diverted by the politics of this. The fact is that we were under attack in the last election. So far, we've done nothing about it except argue.

SESAY: John, to bring you in here, you mentioned Democrats and their feelings running high after Monday's revelations on Capitol Hill. They are also enraged by the revelation that the FBI probe into the possible ties that began back in July. Before the election, they did not disclose that, unlike the actions when it came to Hillary Clinton and her e-mail arrangement. Are they right to see a double standard here?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think that is what we've seen is that James Comey is an inherently political figure and he is someone who can be manipulated by the press and by politicians. That clearly happened throughout the duration of the campaign. And my advice to Trump would be to stop fighting with him and just manipulate him like everyone else.


VAUSE: OK. During this hearing, they want to focus on the meddling but rather they wanted to know who leaked the information.


[02:09:57] REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Would you not agree that surveillance programs that are critical, indispensable, vital to our national security, some of which are up for reauthorization this fall, that save American lives and prevent terrorist attacks, also rises to the level of important?

COMEY: I think those programs are vital, and leaks of information collected pursuant to court order under those programs are terrible. As I said in my opening statement, they should be taken very, very seriously.


VAUSE: Mo, questions about leaks are, of course, important. But to follow what Bob said, Republicans are focused on leaks. The Democrats are focused on politics on the Trump campaign and its links to Russia. And as bob pointed out, there's possibly another, or the Russians could try it in the midterms and 2020 presidential elections. Did both sides have a swing and a miss?

KELLY: I believe nobody won, including the American people. If we take a step back, I thought America was embarrassed, as far as the democracy, how fragile it is, and our bickering and infighting. But there's something else, which is very important. We've made a lot about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but what if they knew what was merely complicit, knew what was going on -- and we remember that Candidate Trump was asking for Russia to hack the DNC for more information. To be complicit, I would say is collusion of another kind. You're not acting in the best interest of America. That's a larger point we don't hear enough about.

SESAY: John?

PHILLIPS: Do you see how the goal posts are changing? All we heard about was collusion. And by the way, there have been countless pieces written in left-wing publications, like "Rolling Stone," "The Intercept," other places, where they're saying the Democrats have overpromised on this and they're playing to the crowd, and their base is going to be furious when there's no silver bullet or proof of collusion. Roger Stone has been saying for weeks and weeks, who has been accused of being one of the Russian agents, where's the beef? Put it out there.

I'd also add that none of this testimony could have occurred if the DOJ didn't sign off on it. Jeff Sessions allowed this to happen. Do you think for one minute that Jeff Sessions would allow it to happen?


KELLY: It was the deputy attorney.

PHILLIPS: It was the Department of Justice that allowed it to happen.


SESAY: Your point being?

PHILLIPS: Going all the way to the White House. I think this benefits Trump. I think having Trump allow this to happen, where they double down on the conspiracy theory, it's good for him, because it discredits his critics.

SESAY: I find it's interesting that you're in a situation where you're pointing to a lack of evidence being -- and goal posts being moved. We've heard that from the Republicans for weeks on end, especially in relation to the wiretapping claims.

PHILLIPS: If there's collusions, where's the evidence?


SESAY: It's not over.

KELLY: I would say we could go back to Hillary Clinton. If you say the Democrats overplayed the hand, I thought Republicans overplayed their hand in reference to E-mail-gate. The only difference was Comey came out before the election, even though they were simultaneous, unrelated, but simultaneous investigations.

PHILLIPS: You know what? What we're seeing from James Clapper and Morell is huge, big time CYA. And not just typical CYA, but CYA with Bill Cosby in the elevator.



VAUSE: During the hearing, the White House weighed in on a number of tweets. They were coming from the official POTUS account, including this one: "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process." Which Comey then knocked down during the hearing.


COMEY: We've offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it's never something that we looked at.

REP. JIM HINES, (D), CONNETICUT: OK. It's not too far of a logical leap to conclude the assertion that you have told the Congress that there was no influence on the electoral process is not quite right?

COMEY: Right. It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today. We don't have any information on that subject.


VAUSE: Bob, what's the reality from the intelligence community as far as Russian motives here and what they're trying to do and to affect the outcome?

BAER: Well, I think it's clear, all 17 intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians interfered in the elections. Whether it was to get Trump elected or to undermine the confidence in democracy, I don't think we'll ever know that. I think we should go back to -- the fact is we have to go back to Flynn's call to the Russian ambassador. There was collusion. The man was on the Russian payroll. RT, is an arm of the Kremlin. Russian intelligence runs it. And he called up the Russian ambassador and said, don't pay any attention to expelling the Russian diplomats, we're going to take care of this. Whoever leaked that -- and this was a crime, leaking that with his name on it on a top-secret document, no doubt about it. It's a leak that should be looked into. But wanted to prove that there was some sort of collusion. It doesn't mean Trump was behind it or the Trump campaign. But Flynn made a big mistake in whoever -- again, I say this with fair confidence -- wanted it out there. Here's part of the evidence.

The question is, are there more intercepts like that, are there more witnesses, what are people saying to the FBI? We simply don't know at this point. And this is going to be a drip, drip, that's going to go on for a long time. And anybody who says this should not be investigated is bordering on treason. The fact is we were attacked by Russia, and we need to investigate it right to the end.

[02:15:21] PHILLIPS: That's just not true. It's not true that there was collusion between Michael Flynn and the Russians. You do not know that to be true. That is the exact opposite of what James Clapper said.


BAER: Come on. Who takes Russian intelligence money? Come on. Be serious.

PHILLIPS: He worked for Russian television. So did Larry King.


PHILLIPS: Does that mean Larry King is working for the Kremlin, too?


BAER: Larry King was not a general. Come on. Come on.

PHILLIPS: Please. What you're saying is --


PHILLIPS: -- opposed to what James Clapper said. Do you know more than James Clapper? James Clapper was the guy in charge up until several weeks ago. Do you think he doesn't know what he's talking about?

BAER: He took Russian money, end of story, end of story.

PHILLIPS: No, no, no.

BAER: You don't do that as a general.

PHILLIPS: You've just issued a charge, a specific legal charge, and you've said people who see it, the opposite side, have committed some sort of act of treason. That's appalling.

KELLY: He did say it needed to be investigated. If you take the money, no matter your intentions, it's worthy of further investigation.


VAUSE: Quickly, just to remind you, a tweet from Kellyanne Conway from last October, "Most honest people I know are not under FBI investigation, let alone two."

Anyway. With that, we'll leave it.

SESAY: Gentlemen, appreciate it.

VAUSE: John, Mo, and Bob Baer is up, thank you for being with us.

For more on Russia's reaction to all this, Claire Sebastian, joins us live.

Claire, Comey ended his testimony with a warning, the Russians would probably to do this again, maybe meddling in the next U.S. presidential election. How is this seen from Moscow?

CLAIRE SEBASTIAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a mixture of denials, dismissals and outright derision of events in Washington. We spoke to the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, during the hearing, and asked for his reaction on the fact that the FBI has disclosed it's investigating Russia, he said they don't see any reason to comment. That's in keeping with what we've heard recently from the Kremlin.

But in contrast to the euphoria we saw around Trump's election and the early days of his presidency and the veracity of the media coverage here, this hearing appears to have had the opposite effect.


REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The Putin regime has a long history of aggressive actions against other countries --

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): As accusations against Russia echoed on the streets of Washington, in Moscow, few even knew it was happening.

"I found out from you," this man said. "I think Russia will still be in first place despite the U.S.," this

woman tells me.

(on camera): The hearing comes at a time when Russian euphoria over Trump's election has fizzled out, and that is partly because of the investigations. Russia realized that far from a potential ally, it is now politically toxic for Trump.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLI SPOKESMAN: Quite unexpectedly, we were faced in a situation when Russia, all of a sudden, became, let's say, a nightmare for the United States.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): The Kremlin has distanced itself, calling this anti-Russian hysteria, saying they were too busy with their own work to follow the hearing.

This man has advised Russian governments since the Cold War.

(on camera): What do you think was going on inside the Kremlin today?

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN ADVISOR: I mean, we're -- I mean, they're preparing for our own elections which are thousand times more important than the Trump elections. We'll have a lot of sympathy toward Americans. The whole debate is unbelievably humiliating for America.


SEBASTIAN (voice-over): The Russian media stayed mostly quiet on the hearing Monday. The editor-in-chief of Kremlin-funded English- language channel, RT, saying it was, quote, "like a spy movie from the 1970s."

This man is a political columnist for a Russian newspaper, Kommersant.

UNIDENTIFIED POLITICAL COLUMNIST, KOMMERSANT NEWSPAPER: Just to repeat the accusations, which were downplayed by Russian officials, this is seen as a futile exercise.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN ADVISOR: People are bored. I mean, at first, it was exhilarating. People felt interested, proud. But now it's boring. It's boring and stupid.


VAUSE: Boring and stupid.

Claire, we also are getting word it seems the new U.S. secretary of state will skip what should have been his first NATO meeting. What are the details?

[02:19:53] SEBASTIAN: This is coming from a State Department spokesman talking to CNN. It seems that Rex Tillerson will travel to Russia in April and potentially hold meetings here. The Russian foreign ministry not confirming it, but it will be his first visit to Russia as secretary of state. Assuming he'll meet with his counterpart here. This won't be their first meet. They met in mid- february on the sidelines of a G20 meeting. Rex Tillerson set the tone in that meeting. He immediately called for Russia to pull pack the Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. That set the tone for the fact that he probably won't be taking a softer stance towards Russia despite the fact he's known to have had very much experience in dealing with Russia. We look to see how this preparation for the meeting will unfold.

VAUSE: OK, Claire, thank you. Claire Sebastian, live this hour in Moscow.

SESAY: A quick break now. The North Korean nuclear threat keeps growing. Why the country is said to be entering a troubling new phase in its weapons program.


VAUSE: South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye, is being questioned over the corruption scandal which led to her impeachment. She apologized as she arrived at the prosecutor's office and promised to fully cooperate.

SESAY: Her supporters have been rallying outside. Park denies any wrongdoing but could face charges. The election to find her replacement is scheduled for May 9th.

VAUSE: North Korea appears to be advancing their capability to make nuclear weapons. The U.N.'s top nuclear inspector tells the "Wall Street Journal" the North has doubled the size of the facility it uses to enrich uranium.

SESAY: He says the regime is also making process in the production of plutonium and that a diplomatic solution seemed unlikely.

Let's go to our Will Ripley in Beijing.

Will, how is the news of significant progress within North Korea's nuclear program being received in the region?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on which country you're in. Here in Beijing, they continue to insist that diplomacy is the way to go here, even as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency casts doubt in a new interview that an Iran-style deal is possible with North Korea. The nuclear program has advanced to the point -- and when I visited the country, I've been told repeatedly by officials they're not willing to give the weapons up. They believe these weapons are the key to their government's survival.

So you have a real dilemma because South Korea and Japan are the countries that are strong U.S. allies and in the immediate firing range of the potential weapons continuing to be developed with another test of a new kind of rocket engine.

You hear that it's really on the top of mind for President Trump and his administration. He tweeted about it, he talked about it on Air Force One, and he even spoke about it as a rally in Louisville on Monday. Listen.


[02:25:08] TRUMP: North Korea.


TRUMP: North Korea, I'll tell you what, what's happening there is disgraceful. And not smart, not smart at all. So many different problems.


RIPLEY: The Trump administration is expected to propose even heavier sanctions on North Korea. And Secretary Tillerson, when he was in Beijing, was meeting with high-level diplomats here. In fact, the State Department's special representative on North Korea, Ambassador Joseph Yun (ph), was also here. He is now just arrived in Seoul, according to local media, trying to figure out how to get the Chinese government to enforce resolutions in place and put more economic restrictions on the country. But Isha, so far, they've not worked when it comes to reigning in Kim Jong-Un.

SESAY: Will Ripley, joining us with the very latest from Beijing. Will, we appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Everyone on board has survived a commercial plane crash in South Sudan. Images of the burning jet may make many wonder how it was possible. The president's spokesman calls it a miraculous survival that there were only minor injuries among some of the 43 passengers.

SESAY: He said fog caused the pilot to overshoot the runway. The plane caught fire when it hit the ground. The pilot opened a door near the tail and the crew evacuated everyone.

VAUSE: With that we'll take a short break.

"State of America" with Kate Bolduan is up next for our viewers in Asia.

SESAY: Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., five leading candidates, one election, and a marathon debate. The men and woman who want to be France's next president, they all face off.


[02:30:14] SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.


The headlines this hour --

(HEADLINES) SESAY: French voters are getting a closer look at the people who want to be the next president. The top 5 contenders faced off in a marathon debate that had plenty of fireworks.

All eyes were on the front runners, far-right leader, Marine le Pen, and centrist Independent, Emmanuel Marcon.

Details now from Melissa Bell, reporting from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: This is a French political campaign like none other, and like no one can remember here in France, already shaken by the populist wave that appears to have swept the Western world.

Tonight, for the first time in the Fifth Republic, before the first round of a presidential elections, the leading candidates held a live televised debate. It was focused on the issues and what each candidate offered for France, what each candidate would bring to the country as its president.

For the last few weeks, the presidential campaign has been dominated by the judicial troubles faced by Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate, the traditional right candidate, and the far-right's Marine le Pen.

Tonight, this was a debate about issues and issues that went to the heart of what kind of country France wants to be.

The question of the burkini and whether it should be allowed on French beaches has dominated French politics for many months now, and it was central to the conversation tonight. Have a listen.

EMMANUEL MARCON, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translation): The trap into which you are falling, Madam le Pen, with your provocations, is to divide society, meaning that more than four million French women and French men, whose religion is Islam, and are not dividing society but live in our republic, you're making them an enemy of the Republic. Well, I say no.

BELL: Plenty of tension there in those exchanges, tension in the speeches of all five candidates who knew especially for Emmanuel Macron, the leading centric independent candidate. This was really his debate to lose. For the time being, the polls suggest that he will be facing off with the far-right's Marine le Pen in the second round of the election, with, again, this historic situation where the two candidates, the Socialist and the Republican, representing the two parties that have essentially shared power for the last several decades fairly excluded from the political debate, excluded also, according to polls, from that second round. Can Emmanuel Macron keep his campaign on track and keep this shift going, that is the question for the coming weeks.

But at the end of tonight's debate, in which really no killer lethal blow was delivered to any of the candidates, it is one that he seems to have gotten past for tonight. Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen looking at the moment like they'll be facing off in that second round, presenting to the French electorate two different versions of what they believe France should be.

Melissa Bell, CNN, in Paris.


SESAY: Dominic Thomas is here now. He chairs the Department of French and Francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dominic, good to have you with us once again.

Heading into this debate, Emmanuel Macron faced the accusation of not really standing for anything. Did he settle that charge once and for all after this three-hour marathon?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES: It was a long marathon. And it was the first time in French history they've had a televised debate in the first round that brought these different candidates together. The interesting thing is, thus far, he hasn't needed to develop any kind of a specific policy scheme. Of course, he has in the multiple rallies. The left has done a good job of imploding. And the right has been embroiled in its own financial and enrichment scandals and so on. And was has been left has been between the far right, le Pen, who from the beginning has been polling high, has a decent base support, and will be there most likely in the second round, left this huge gap that Emmanuel Macron was able to fill with his campaign.

Now as the lead up to this discussion, you know, showed, these are two diametrically opposed candidates. Macron does have policies. He is in favor of the European Union, in the way that Chancellor Merkel is and Robert Schultz, who will be running against her in the German elections in the fall. He worked very closely as a Socialist minister with the reforms to some of the job laws, opening up the market and reducing taxation on businesses. And he is very invested in the idea of digital innovations, of kind of jumpstarting the French economy and bringing it into the 21st century, and making people want to work rather than being concerned whether they should be working 35 hours and so on. And he is different to le Pen. We saw it in the debate tonight, especially over the argument over the burkini. For example, he made controversial views about colonial history and he's talked about a diverse society, about these things being assets to France. And so his positions are quite clear. He believes in openness. He believes in the European Union and so on. And therefore, it is enough, I think, right now, to stand against le Pen on that in an election. And that is an election of the heart and not of the mind, and it is working on the fear that le Pen is trying to do or the hope that Macron is trying to represent or offer to the people.

[02:36:11] VAUSE: You mentioned the European Union. Le Pen is not a fan of the E.U. And during the debate, she talked about what a success the Brexit has been. Listen to this.


MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translation): Mr. Fillon, that is what is called a fear project. It was used before Brexit. It was used before the election of Donald Trump. The results of Brexit are wonderful. They have doubled the growth of the E.U. They have the lowest unemployment rate since 2004.


VAUSE: I mean, we can get to the numbers, but for le Pen, the bigger picture here, taking the French out of the U.K. is not as simple as it was for the U.K. when it comes to France, because of the way their constitution is set up and the way their political system is established, right? This is a big ask for le Pen.

THOMAS: It would be a big ask. And also, she is speaking as if Brexit has actually happened.


THOMAS: This is the problem. And the other candidates really sort of got her on that. It also feeds into the idea she is weak about speaking on the economy. She's good on fear and immigration and Islam but --


VAUSE: She is flakey when it came to the economy.

THOMAS: Absolutely. She was unable really to offer a modern plan to answer these kinds of questions. So, yes, you're absolutely right. The Brexit, if anything, the process so far has been incredibly complicated. Ironically, Theresa May has had to wait a little longer to announce the triggering of Article 50. The European Union is celebrating its 60th anniversary on the 25th of March. She is waiting for the 29th. It's going to be a very long and complicated debate. And British society is extremely divided as to whether or not they really want to go through on this. And the fact is, in France, the French have done very well out of the European Union, and this would not have been an easy process. But, of course, where she to be elected, it would deal a severe blow to morale in the European Union.

SESAY: Are we seeing an impact in the numbers in the polling after what happened in Holland?

THOMAS: Well, the debate in Holland is very different. It's a parliamentary system and so on, too. But --


SESAY: It's more the outcome for the election --


THOMAS: I think the underperformance in many ways of Wilders, he did pick up votes, but not enough to make him a powerful interlocutor in this complex coalition debate that has started. And it was clear, the question of Nexit, of the Netherlands leaving the European Union, was pushed aside, too. And that has not helped her as we've gone into this debate.

And we saw, which was interesting in the Dutch debate, was this tremendous turnout, that people did come out and vote. The French, we still don't know. Many people are undecided and many have said they won't vote. There is a lot of disillusionment with these candidates, particularly around the corruption of Fillon and so on. So it remains really highly unpredictable. And the fact that we have never had two non-mainstream party candidates in the second round makes it all the more unpredictable in terms of the outcome.

VAUSE: Dominic, as always, thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: We really appreciate the insight.

THOMAS: Thank you.

SESAY: Thank you.

SESAY: Breaking news this hour. Former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness has died.

VAUSE: McGuinness was well known as an Irish Republican Army commander in the '70s and '80s before turning to politics. McGuinness was 66 years old.

And we have much more on this with our guest now joining us.

Who do we have actually right now?

Amalendu Mirsa is joining us now.

Amalendu, tell us your perspective on Mr. McGuinness and his passing. He was last seen in public back in January when he tendered his resignation looking frail and very gaunt.

[02:39:55] AMALENDU MIRSA, LECTURER IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY (voice-over): Well, he was a true soldier- turned-politician who marked history into something of a shining star, and he will be remembered both by his detractors and supporters as someone who truly believed in the peace process in Northern Ireland. If you look into his life history, you realize he started very much at a kind of soldier. But he was originally, although he was a member of IRA, he decided that the true path to peace shouldn't be through wars but peace. That is why from 1972 when he was a party worker of the IRA, he moved and became a politically active member of Sinn Fein. That is the reason why he was one of the youngest members, he was kind of taken very seriously by the services, and he was basically cultivated. As a future political leader. And we saw the culmination of that in the deputy first minister in the 2007.

But the good thing about Martin McGuinness was he was a visionary, and he realized he has to make peace at some point or another for the betterment of the economic country. That is the reason why we see him sort of in that history with a reverend, and both decided to bury the hatchet and move forward, and Northern Ireland has lost a great man with the passing away of Mr. McGuinness.

SESAY: So people are always fascinated by these pivots that happen in people's lives when they move from one -- not one extreme, if you will, as an armed commander to becoming a peacemaker. People are fascinated by how that comes about. What was it for Martin McGuinness that led him to that evolution? Was there a particular moment?

MISRA: About 1972 bombings in his home city, depends on whose side of the divide you come from, and you realize that in the long run, they cannot sustain it. They were fighting against a much more superior power, the British state. I think around that political time, it dawned on him that in 1972 to 1974, I would say was a transitional phase when he sorts of moved from IRA. And like I said earlier, the it was cultivated by the Secret Service as someone that is going to be a prominent political leader. And he realized that by just being on the ground as a foot soldier, he might end up like many of his other compatriots with a stray bullet or something. We see him becoming more and more politically relevant.


VAUSE: Amalendu, sorry. I didn't want to cut you off.

But a lecturer in international politics at Lancaster University.

Sir, sorry to cut you off. Thank you for being with us.

We would like to take a closer look at Martin McGuinness's life.

We have this report from CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Martin McGuinness was never in any doubt about what he wanted, an end to British rule in Northern Ireland.

MARTIN MCGUINNESS, FORMER NORTHERN IRELAND DEPUTY FIRST MINITER & FORMER IRA COMMANDER: In Ireland, they believe the British government should have no part to play and in the life of the silent, that we believe the silent should be free.

ROBERTSON: McGuinness was born into poverty in Londonderry, in a city that would become the cradle of the Republican movement in the province. In the late 60s, Londonderry's Catholics took to the streets demanding civil rights and an end to Protestant dominance in Northern Ireland.

McGuinness joined the IRA to fight, the Irish Republican Army to fight.

MCGUINNESS: It was 1969, whenever it erupted.


ROBERTSON: By 1972, on Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers fired on angry demonstrators, killing 13 unarmed civilians, McGuinness had risen to be an IRA commander.

In early '80s, McGuinness became an elected politician for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA.

But even as the IRA launched bombing attacks in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, McGuinness was talking with British officials, a risky initiative.

MCGUINNESS: We were dealing with very devious people who had the capability if they chose effectively to destroy me, as a Republican, and the fact that they bring back a set of circumstances where I could lose my life as a result of my participation in these talks.

[02:45:24] ROBERTSON: His risk eventually paid off. The 1998, Good Friday Peace Agreement called for power sharing between Catholics and Protestants. Vindication came at the ballot box. Sinn Fein's popularity soared, the most powerful Catholic party in Northern Ireland. In a new power sharing government, McGuinness rose to be deputy first minister, the first in his party to shake hands with Queen Elizabeth. A testament to how far this Republican terrorist had come.

But after years of power sharing with Protestants, he abruptly resigned.

MCGUINNESS: I believe it's the right time to call a halt.

ROBERTSON: It was all the more shocking, because he appeared so visibly weak. He was ill. It was the last roll of the political dice. A Republican through and through.

MCGUINNESS: I've always believed in myself. From the day that I stood with the young people and the old people of Londonderry and through storms during the battle of the bog side, it was from that moment on that I believed in myself, that I believed that we could achieve important things.

ROBERTSON: A belief he never let go.


And Nic joins us on the line from London.

Nic, good to have you with us.

He went from an IRA commander to a peacemaker. I have to ask you, how will the death of Martin McGuinness be received by the people of Northern Ireland?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Some, they reviled him as a killer terrorist. For some of them there will be a feeling of satisfaction. There are some families that lost loved ones that feel that he was responsible, if not part, directly. But there are a lot, and I would have to say these would cross the sectarian divide, there would be a lot of Republicans in Northern Ireland who would feel a sadness at his loss because he engaged so much of himself for his cause, to try to unite Ireland.

But in the last few weeks, where he's been in ill health, one of the most striking things has been the cross-party, cross-sectarian divide tributes paid to him as somebody who became a peacemaker, as somebody who played a significant role in trying to advance the politics of Northern Ireland.

I think there's going to be mixed emotions about it today. But without doubt, this was a man who did ultimately cross the Rubicon and become an advocate of peace. His early days of getting into politics behind the scenes, there were British spies helping manipulate the vote in his city that were able to help get him elected. That, if you will, was the conniving and knowledge of the British government that somebody who was an armed terrorist in the eyes of so many, but though he always denied being a commander in the IRA, other than that one day on Bloody Sunday, that this was a man, who ultimately made that decision to change and work for good. And he became one of the staunchest of the politicians across the sectarian divide. He became the first minister to -- the deputy first minister to his first minister, and these two men who were opposed to each other, got along so well, they became known as the chuckle brothers. That was an indication of how far he'd moved in his thinking about how he should try to unite Ireland as one country. He never gave up in that belief.

VAUSE: Nic, you mentioned he had not been well for a short period of time. What are the details of his health? He was only 66 years old. And at this point, what is believed to have been the cause of death?

ROBERTSON: You know, it's not been clear. One of the strengths of the IRA and the Sinn Fein is the cloak of secrecy when they want to have it. And they were always very in the last couple of months, always very, very careful not to say anything. When asked specific questions, they refused to give details, so it's not clear. But it really was very noticeable. Just in the past few months, his visible decline, and you could hear it in his voice as well, it was much more shaky. You could see this was a man who was ill.

Indeed, when you have the British secretary of state to Northern Ireland who, at one time, would have been the arch enemy of the IRA, to pay a tribute to Martin McGuinness's political efforts in Northern Ireland, which is what happened in the past few weeks, you could recognize that clearly those who understood what was wrong with him, knew this was something he wasn't going to come back from and it was going to take his life fairly quickly.

[02:50:43] SESAY: He was a controversial figure. That being said, what will his legacy be? He had a long career, 40 years as a Republican. How will -- what will be considered his greatest contribution? ROBERTSON: You know, I think his greatest contribution is going to be

that he helped take what was an -- they called it an armed struggle -- others called it a terrorist organization, the IRA -- and used his influence within the organization. And it could only be done from a position of strength and respect within that arms struggle, that he used his position of influence to convince the hard men, as they called them, the gunmen, to put down their weapons and agree to a cessation of hostilities and a peace deal and putting their weapons beyond use, having them decommissioned -- call it what you will -- to get them to go through that process. It took people of character and leadership within the organization to carry that out. It's easy to sort of stand on the outside and underestimate that.

I spent a lot of time with him in 2000 working on a documentary, and I tried to figure out, is this a man who has crossed the Rubicon. Knowing he was a former commander, it was impossible to make that call. However, when the documentary was finished, his aides told me, we can't understand it. We thought -- we think of him as a Nelson Mandela figure. It's not what you showed. But they see his conversion of from military to politics was a conversion of meaning and one he meant to follow through to the end of his life and condemned terrorist acts in the years as a politician.

So I think that's what he's going to be remembered for, helping transform a terrorist movement that was terrorizing the people of Northern Ireland. His hometown of Londonderry looked like London during the blitz. In one year, more than 200 business premises in that tiny city were bombed or set on fire. There was destruction, and he led his military organization out of that.

VAUSE: But, Nic, you say he made a transition from violence or from the IRA to politician and peacemaker, but did he ever apologize for his past?

ROBERTSON: Yes. And I asked him that question, as did many other people, and he would always express remorse for -- without paying personal attribution that he was responsible, he would always express remorse for the lives lost in the struggle. But did he ever stand up and say I was the man that did X, Y, and Z, and I'm sorry for that today? He didn't. But in the broad brush strokes, he did. But obviously, to admit culpability in a murder -- and there were numbers of murders that he was believed to be behind if not directly involved in, things he always denied -- to admit that would have been to -- would have been to put himself, place himself in a position of being prosecuted. He was never -- like all the former IRA members -- never going to put themselves in a position of admitting that they had broken the law. That would even today mean a jail sentence. People are still being investigated and prosecuted for crimes committed during that period when he was an IRA commander.

SESAY: And, Nic, you mentioned during the documentary with him and spending time with Martin McGuinness himself. As you did all that research and spent time with the man himself, what surprised you about him? What was your take away?

[02:55:04] ROBERTSON: This was a man who had quite a sense of humor. He would -- he would always have a joke, and it would often be a self- depreciating joke. He once told me his middle name, but said don't repeat it. It's available on Wikipedia for everyone to see today, but he was a man who knew how to charm you. He was a man who knew how to get his message across. But even driving around in his ministerial car with his driver, he obviously wasn't allowed to carry a firearm, but he had in the boot of the car, the trunk of his car, a shine stick. It's like a hockey stick. I said what have you got this for? He said you never know what's going to happen when you're driving around the streets of Belfast, which is what we were doing.

VAUSE: Nic, we'll leave it there. Nic Robertson on the line there.

SESAY: Thank you so much, Nic.

VAUSE: Thanks, Nic, for that.

A lot more on the passing of Martin McGuinness, former deputy first minister of Ireland, dead at 66.

SESAY: Stay with CNN for continuing coverage.


[03:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Rosemary Church.