Return to Transcripts main page


Final Voting Underway in French Presidential Race; 82 Kidnapped Girls Freed from Boko Haram; Trump Transition Team Warned Flynn; Thoroughbred Named Always Dreaming Wins Kentucky Derby. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 7, 2017 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:08] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A divided France goes to the polls to choose between two presidential candidates who could not be more different.

After years of demanding bring back our girls, finally joy in Nigeria as dozens of missing Chibok schoolgirls are released from captivity.

Plus Always Dreaming comes out on top at the Kentucky derby despite a sloppy track.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen.

And the final vote is on in France's historic presidential race. Polls have been open about an hour now. The stakes are high as voters choose between centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right's Marine Le Pen. Macron has led in polls but his campaign said Friday it was a victim of a hack meant to sway the vote.

Our Isa Soares and Melissa Bell are covering this election in France for us. Isa is in the northern part of the country and Melissa is there in Paris at a polling precinct.

Melissa, let's start with you. It's come down to this. And the weather is kind of gray over France. But how are people's moods? What does it look like there from your vantage point?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's downright rainy just outside this polling station. We're in the 18th District of Paris. And the heavens opened early this morning. And it's due to rain all day, probably bad news in terms of turnout. And that is going to be one of the crucial questions, Natalie.

How many people, despite the rain, despite this long weekend, many of them have left Paris, but taken the trouble to organize so they can vote by proxy. How many will actually turn out to cast their votes in this crucial election? As you say, two extremely different visions what was France should become. This has left many French people slightly bewildered actually. So vast is the choice, and so different to anything that we've known before.

The French are voting for the first time in the second round with neither of the two mainstream parties, left and right, that have dominated French politics since 1958 even in the running. So this is already an exceptional election. Will that motivate people to come out and vote all the more? Or in the contrary, will we see a lot of abstentions or what French call white votes? So people who make their way to the polling station but then choose to vote for neither of the candidate.

We should have by about midday today an early indication of how turnout is and how it compares to the last election in 2012. And that will be a crucial figure to look out for -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Melissa, thank you.

Let's turn to Isa Soares. She's in the northern part of the country where Marine Le Pen will be casting her vote -- Isa.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie. Yes. She's expected to be arriving around 11:00 or so. It's been a very busy morning here. You'll be able to see a lot of press here. But people have been arriving since the polls, since really the voting sessions opened about 8:00. But, you know, this part of town is really Le Pen territory. This is a French rust belt. It is here that she's really won the heart and the battle for the hearts and minds, as well as the votes of people here.

The Front National has been leading in this town of Henin Beaumont in the last seven years and -- or three years, rather, they've been in charge here but for 70 years, Natalie, this has been under socialist rule. This was once a very prosperous coal mining town and historically would have voted socialist. But her message has really played out here.

People here feel they're disillusioned. She's playing into those fears. And really have promises it really is a stark contrast as Melissa was saying for the haves and the havenots, those elites and those who have been forgotten. And Marine Le Pen has really struck a chord and many people here say they'll be voting for her in the first round. They give her more than 46 percent of the vote -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Isa Soares from Henin Beaumont and Melissa Bell there for us in Paris. Thank you both. We'll be speaking with you again.

Let's talk now with Dominic Thomas. He's live in Paris for us. He's a professor at the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. The University of California.

I want to start, Dominic, with something that Melissa Bell just said, that many of these voters are bewildered because so vast is the choice. What do you think about that?

DOMINIC THOMAS, DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES AT UCLA: Right, and it's been this way for weeks now. Two mainstream candidates and the main parties are gone. So you have nonmainstream candidates in the second round. The first rounds were very divided with four candidates scoring right around the 20s mark. And as they go off into this runoff stage, many people are voting not so much for a candidate that they especially support, but against Marine Le Pen and the Front Nationale.

In 2002 her father made it through to the runoff stages. And at that particular point the political parties were more united and they came out in what was known as the Republican Front to give Jacques Chirac a 65-point lead.

[03:05:03] This time around the margins will be much closer. And people are disillusioned. The political parties are divided. But certainly the two visions that these candidates represent make the choice relatively straightforward in the sense of voting for Macron, who's really for a much more open vision of France, pro-European Union, and so on. And Marine Le Pen is really the inheritor of this far-right wing nationalist party that continues to bother mainstream voters in French society.

ALLEN: You talk about voters being disillusioned with the two who are left, the others that have gone, they're voting against something instead of for something. So what caused that divisiveness in this presidential election season there in France?

THOMAS: Right. What we're seeing is since the fifth republic got under way 59 years ago, is that political authority has moved from the right back to the left and so on for all this time period. And in recent years, and with issues of sort of unemployment, the question of terror, immigration, so on, people feel that the mainstream political parties, a lot of these leaders have been around for a long time, have been unable to resolve these situations.

And you have a growing proportion of French society confronted with unemployment and urban decay, deindustrialization, and so on. And they've sort of felt abandoned by traditional left-wing parties. The Hollande presidency did not go well, his socialist party scored just about 6 percent in the first round, which was absolutely humiliating. And people have been turning to new political organizations and parties and certainly Emmanuel Macron, who for the time being has a particular movement, has been able to capture some of this imagination by at least having a more positive view of the future of France.

This is somebody who's been compared in many ways to say the young Tony Blair who took over in Great Britain as prime minister.

ALLEN: European Union is of course watching this closely because the direction that Marine Le Pen would take the country. Talk about the broader ramifications of this vote.

THOMAS: Right. This is one of the major issues in this campaign. And what's so interesting is that Marine Le Pen, who has been so opposed to the European Union and promising to bring back the French franc over the euro, in the end -- at the end of her campaign sort of changed her tune on that because she realizes that leaving the European Union, as much as French people may have issues with some aspects of EU legislation and so on and so forth, the fact is that France is one of the founding nations of the European Union, and has just celebrated its 60th anniversary.

And there is support for this organization. And Emmanuel Macron is unambiguously pro-Europe, pro-European Union, and wants to build and strengthen France's position within this. And this is a major thing that the voters are going to take with them to the polls. And Marine Le Pen really miscalculated the situation and the pulse of the French society over this particular issue.

ALLEN: We thank you for your analysis, Dominic Thomas, there. On the morning that French people get out and vote. Thank you so much.

And we'll be with this Election Day from the start to the finish for you. And Sunday evening you can join us for a special program from the heart of the French capital. We'll bring you the results as they come in. And that begins 7:50 p.m. local time in Paris.

It is the hashtag that had the world demanding, bring back our girls. Now dozens of Nigeria's missing Chibok girls are finally free. Officials say 82 of them were released after successful negotiations between the government and the terrorist group Boko Haram. They're believed to be from the group of 276 girls stolen from their village three years ago while they were attending school.

Isha Sesay has more for us.


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: After more than three years in captivity, it is the news that people around the world, not to mention the families, have been waiting for. That 82 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls have been released from Boko Haram captivity.

According to tweets put out by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, this release came about as a result of lengthy negotiation and there was a swap of Boko Haram suspects that was done in order to free these girls who will be transported to the capital of Nigeria on Sunday, May 7th, where they will be welcomed by the Nigerian president.

The Nigerian president also in tweets goes on to say that the number of people were involved in this effort to free these girls. He thanks a number of individuals including the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, local and international NGOs, alongside security agencies of Nigeria.

This really is a momentous moment. With three years having gone by, some had begun to doubt whether any more girls would be released.

[03:10:04] As you may remember, some 21 were released in October of 2016. After that, there had been largely silence. We had heard no word of negotiations to bring about the release of more girls. But here we are on this day celebrating the news that 82 more girls have now been freed and will shortly be reunited with their families.

Of course amid the joy, amid the celebration, we must remember that there are still well over 100 girls who remain in Boko Haram captivity, and there is no word whether negotiations continue to bring about their freedom. So that must be borne in mind. But for the families, for the families that await news as to whether

their children as part of this 82, this is just an incredible day filled with so much emotion as they look forward to being reunited with their loved ones.

And we look forward to bringing you just more coverage of their every entry to normal life. These girls have been through so much in their three years in captivity. And we know that they've undergone tremendous hardship while they've been away from their loved ones. And the road to recovery will be a long and a difficult one. But on this day we celebrate the fact that they are finally free and they will shortly be reunited with their loved ones.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: I'm joined now by Oby Ezekwesili. She is a former vice president of World Bank Africa and Nigeria's former minister of Education. 82 more girls coming home. You're wearing the button there that says #bringbackourgirls. How are you feeling and how did you get word about this?

OBY EZEKWESILI, FORMER NIGERIAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION: I can't even describe how I feel. When the news first broke, I couldn't hold myself back. And so I immediately tweeted that I am furiously praying right now that this news be true. And then I began to work the phones. And the more I worked the phones the more it's turned out that the news was actually real.

And at that point in time, my heart was pounding so badly. I mean, I was palpitating. I just couldn't take it all in.


EZEKWESILI: I mean, we've had expectations, but for it to actually then become true, that was emotionally a very big one for us.

ALLEN: Hard to describe. Yes, I can't imagine. While you talk I've got chills right now, I mean, goosebumps, because the world got behind your effort, so many people's efforts to say no, this isn't acceptable. Bring back our girls. And the world held it up. And this is happening.

So help us understand how the power of social media with the government is causing these girls to come home.

EZEKWESILI: You know, the power of social media was in the fact that globally, the whole world took ownership of the problem of the Chibok girls. And so no matter where you resided or you reside, you were drawn to the very tragic story of girls who went to be educated and ended up being an abducted by terrorists.

However, that was as far as it went. When social media then moved and the rest of the world carried on with other priorities, it simply took those of us in Nigeria who had been the voices that began to call attention to the problem that had befallen these girls, to continue, to persist. If there was no persistence in terms of local ownership of the problem, it would never have resolved in this series of positives that we have seen.

And I am so grateful to God. I really am. Because it took a lot of faith for everyone that's been advocating for our Chibok girls to continue, even when the rest of the world moved on to other priorities.

ALLEN: And she told me that it was persistence and persistence that paid off.

Coming up, was Michael Flynn warned about contacting Russia's ambassador before he spoke with him late last year? We'll tell you what members of President Trump's transition team are now saying.

Also this year's Kentucky derby was paved with mud but it was perfect for one horse to clean up at Churchill Downs.


[03:17:05] ALLEN: Tens of thousands of women across Venezuela have been leading anti-government protests this weekend as the political and economic crisis there gets worse.

Chanting "liberty," they are demanding elections and a stop to the violence. Protesters have taken to the streets almost every day for five consecutive weeks. The opposition saying that the Venezuelan president, Nicholas Maduro, is a dictator who has ruined the economy.


HENRIQUE CAPRILES, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (Through Translator): Nicholas Maduro wants through fraudulent means to avoid what no politician can avoid, a popular vote. The only saying we politicians cannot avoid is for people to judge us through their votes, through a popular vote. So the protests will continue until the government understands that it must listen.

Today I am here accompanying Venezuelan women. This country has the name of a woman. We must not forget that.


ALLEN: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is also criticizing the Venezuelan president. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, in a statement, "We are deeply concerned about the Maduro government's violent crackdown on protests in Venezuela. President Maduro's disregard for the fundamental rights of its own people has heighted the political and economic crisis in the country."

New details are emerging about whether the Trump transition team warned former U.S. National Security adviser Michael Flynn about the risks of any contacts with Russia's ambassador. A former U.S. official tells CNN that transition members alerted Flynn in November, weeks before he then spoke with the ambassador about U.S. sanctions on Russia.

For more, here's CNN's Athena Jones in Washington.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this reporting is shedding more light on just what the Trump transition team knew about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador. There were concerns among Trump's transition national security team that Flynn didn't fully appreciate or fully understand the motivations of Ambassador Kislyak. That is why you had the head of Trump's national security transition team, Marshall Billingsley, ask the Obama White House to provide a classified CIA report on the ambassador to provide to Flynn to read ahead of his conversations with Kislyak. One thing that isn't clear is whether Flynn actually read the document.

Another tidbit we're learning confirmed by my colleague Jeff Zeleny is that a former U.S. official said that the Obama White House became troubled regarding the Trump transition's handling of classified information. This official said that some highly sensitive documents were copied and removed from a secure room in the transition headquarters in Washington. And so as a result of that, some Obama officials decided that some documents would only be allowed to be viewed at the White House. So another interesting tidbit.

[03:20:02] Now one thing I should mention in all of this is that we're getting some pushback on this, this narrative, from some former Trump transition officials who have said this is revisionist history and, quote, "I'm sure everybody is telling the FBI they warned against it," meaning that they warned Flynn against talking to Kislyak. So interesting details emerging in this -- in this story.

Back to you.


ALLEN: Athena Jones for us.

Well, about 50,000 people, 50,000, in Hanover, Germany are being ordered from their homes because of unexploded bombs from World War II. The mandatory evacuation is starting this hour and will stay in effect until experts defuse them. They were discovered during construction.

Hanover was heavily bombed by the allies in 1943 and finding unexploded bombs from that era is not unusual.

In Louisville, Kentucky, this year's Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby, was paved with mud. But leave to it a thoroughbred named Always Dreaming to wake up the crowd at Churchill Downs.

Our Coy Wire was there.


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: A dreamy day at Churchill Downs in here Louisville, Kentucky, as the favorite, Always Dreaming, wins the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. This marks the fifth straight year that the favorite has taken the Run for the Roses. That's the most since the 1890s.

Always Dreaming got out to a great start and was helping to set the pace from the very beginning. Fighting the elements, the wet and sloppy track running strong despite the heavy, muddy hooves. He endured to the end. It's safe to say that Always Dreaming is a mudder like no other.

The winning team collects an estimated $1.2 million. The horse was bought for over $300,000. But the silver lining in this story, the jockey, John Velasquez, now has four Triple Crown wins, two Kentucky derbies, two Belmont Stakes, a Hall of Fame rider having claimed over $300 million in earnings, more than any jockey in the history of the sport. But most impressively, he is the chairman of the board of the Jockeys' Guild and he's on the board of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

I spoke with him in the locker room before the race and his mission, he says, is to work off the track to raise money to support those who have come before him and those who are in need of help. A sweet, sweet win not just for a horse named Always Dreaming but for one of the good guys in the sport, jockey John Velasquez.

It is wonderful day at Churchill Downs and one to be remembered. The dream is alive for Always Dreaming. Now the question is, can he and Velasquez take the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Preakness Stakes in two weeks in Baltimore.

I'm Coy Wire for CNN in Louisville, Kentucky.


ALLEN: And we'll see him at the Preakness.

A dramatic week for over 40 tourists in eastern China, firefighters saving them from flooding and Derek has that for us.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You've got to see the footage coming into here -- us at CNN here. This is unbelievable actually. We had firefighters rescuing 44 tourists that were trapped by the sudden flashflood.

This is in east China's Fujian Province. Firefighters actually guided the trapped people to an elevated portion of the land and waited for the flooding to subside. But three firefighters actually waded across the water which you're watching now and attached safety ropes, they delivered food and drinking water to the trapped tourists, waiting for that water to actually recede so they could get to safety.

Fortunately the whole tourist group was evacuated and all is well. But wow, scary moments for these tourists, which by the way many of them -- most of them were above the age of 60.


[03:25:13] VAN DAM: So that's a look at the weather forecast across the country of France. I think we've got a story ahead of us here that, well, sticks with that theme pretty well.

ALLEN: Yes. But I wanted to say, there's so much at stake in this important presidential race. You know, it's so often things depend on the weather.

VAN DAM: And to think that's why we need meteorologists. To tell us these things.

ALLEN: Glad Derek mentioned whoever wins the election will feast on the best baguettes that Paris has to offer. And here's why. Top chefs and food bloggers had a contest. They picked the winning baker during the city's annual baguette tasting contest on Thursday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): Above all, it brings an incredible reputation. You see, for example, this man was the winner last year and he tells us that it's a real boost for our bakers and also for us. It's important in Paris to show internationally everywhere what makes it part of our gastronomic richness.


ALLEN: The winner, who owns a bakery in Paris, will deliver baguettes to the French president for the next year. Despite this grueling campaign it's nice to just remember what Paris is about.

VAN DAM: Sitting in the streets, eating a baguette in Paris, probably can't beat that really.

ALLEN: Yes. Derek and I have a problem. In Atlanta.

VAN DAM: That's right.

ALLEN: We love our city but no comparison.

Our top stories after this. Thanks for watching.


ALLEN: Here are the top stories from CNN in France. Final voting is under way in the country's historic presidential race. The contest pits the far-right's Marine Le Pen against centrist Emmanuel Macron. Macron has led in the polls but his campaign did say Friday it was hacked in a bid to sway voting.

Nigerian officials say 82 of the missing Chibok girls are now free. They were released after negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, the terrorist group that took them. They took 276 schoolgirls in 2014 and the #bringbackourgirls campaign helped with the release, though more than 100 remain missing.