Return to Transcripts main page


Final Voting Underway in French Presidential Race; Russia Denies Hacking Emmanuel Macron Campaign; Trump Transition Team Warned Flynn; Trump to Visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican; 82 Kidnapped Girls Freed from Boko Haram; White House Vetting Process Under Scrutiny; Aired 4-5a ET

Aired May 07, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: The polls are open right now. French voters are electing their next president. It's a choice between two candidates with starkly different visions for the country.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: In the United States new details about President Trump's transition team. Warning his National Security pick about dealings with Russia. We'll have the very latest from Washington.

JONES: Plus the joy for dozens of parents in Nigeria as 82 Chibok girls are released from captivity. All the details on their return home just ahead.

HOWELL: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

JONES: And I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones live for you in London. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

HOWELL: A vote for change is the question France decides is what's happening. All eyes on that nation this day as voters head to the polls for a historic presidential race. Fair to say the stakes are high.

Polls have been open for about two hours now. Voters there set to choose between two very opposite candidates. Right now we're seeing Francois Hollande at the polling station, 10:01 there in Paris. Again the polls have been open for a couple of hours now. People going to make a very important decision.

They'll choose between two candidates. Centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen. Le Pen opposes the European Union and pledged to leave NATO. Macron on the other hand has led in the polls but his campaign said Friday that it was a victim of a hack that was meant to sway the votes.

And this is of course the place to be to get all the information you'll need to know. CNN covering this election with our correspondents at the polling places where voters will decide their next president. Melissa Bell live in Paris and Isa Soares standing by in Henin

Beaumont. Let's start, though, with you, Melissa, there in the French capital.

What is the mood of voters that you have spoken with? Set the scene for us if you could.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a sense, I think, as they head to the polls and polling stations like this one in the 18th District of Paris that this is a momentous vote that they're casting. These two very different visions of what France should be that you explained a moment ago, George, that is they know what they're facing and they know that every vote will count.

Now let me just show you how these polling stations are organized. You can see people queuing there to go to cast their ballots. You have these booths in which you take two pieces of paper, one has Marine Le Pen written on it, the other has Emmanuel Macron, and you have the small envelope. You put one or the other inside. And then you queue to go and put your vote in a box.

So this is a slightly old-fashioned system but there is also this kind of sacred quality to it. People who come in here know that this is part of the democratic process. It is an important moment in any case. But this time particularly, George, this election is like no other. And what voters have been telling us as they come here is that they have a sense of how much it mattered. How important it was to get to the polling station today.

HOWELL: Melissa Bell in the French capital. Stand by with us please if we could also now bring in Isa Soares outside the major cities there.

You're in a National Front stronghold for Marine Le Pen. What is the mood there?

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just say, George, they're not opening the champagne bottles just yet. There's no celebration but specifically here in Henin Beaumont which is a French and Marine Le Pen stronghold really. It's where she really began her campaign and where she's expected to end it. She's expected to vote in the next hour or so.

Let me give you a sense of the mood. You've got a lot of media waiting for Marine Le Pen. She's expected to arrive in the next hour or so. We've got families while waiting to catch a glimpse of the Front Nationale leader. She will be voting in the school here just behind me. It is a very strong Front Nationale stronghold and it's important to note that this for 70 years, George, was really led by the Socialist Party.

This was a once very popular and very well-to-do town, coalmining town. That has changed the last three years it has been led by Front Nationale. They really tapped into the hearts and the minds, indeed the votes of people here, and for those I have been speaking to, well, they felt disillusioned throughout these years of the rule of these elite political parties being in charged. They felt disillusioned. They felt like their voices weren't being heard and many are telling me they will be voting for Marine Le Pen.

In fact many were holding back somewhat keeping -- their cast very close to the chest whenever we're asking them which way they vote, but when I pushed on the majority of them saying they will vote for Marine Le Pen. So we'll see, of course, whether those Macron leaks will sway some other undecided voters here in northern France which is Le Pen hot land.

HOWELL: It is interesting to get that context about that area. Could be compared for our viewers here in the U.S. to the rustbelt that played a very important, you know, impact in the U.S. election.

[04:05:11] Let's bring in Melissa Bell, because you touched on this, Isa, the question about these -- the late news of these hacks with the Macron campaign. There's not a lot that we can say much more than that with respect to reporting restrictions but is there something playing into this? Is it having an impact on voters from what you're hearing?

BELL: Well, it is one of the big questions and of course as you say we face those reporting restrictions. So do the French media of course so this is the slightly odd situation the French find themselves in. They know there's been the secret of series of leaks. Macron's campaign itself confirmed that explaining that some of the documents leaked were genuinely hacked. Correspondents from within the campaign team. Other documents they warned within that trove documents were fake.

But of course we the journalists covering this election and the French voters coming out to cast their votes today aren't able really to share or talk about or broadcast the contents of the e-mail so you find yourself in this -- sort of in the dark really.

I mean, it's been compared, George, to the DNC hack. But of course by the time Americans went to the polls the contents of the Clinton camp e-mails were know. It is much more like those last set of e-mails you'll remember that we have seen just as the Americans prepare to go to the polls. Their existence was revealed and investigations, the fact that they would be looked at was revealed. But the Americans didn't know what their contents were so it is actually much more similar to that. The French are voting today without knowing precisely how damaging or not the documents themselves are.

HOWELL: OK. Melissa, so that's a question. Will this play into the minds of voters?

And Isa, this question for you. So look, will it play into the minds of voters? That would obviously be -- could help the Le Pen campaign but no one knows at this point what voters are thinking regarding this latest information about the hack. Another question, though, voter apathy. People who just decide not to vote. That could play into this and if you could explain to our viewers just to give a sense of what it means to vote nil or vote blank. How could that factor into all of this? SOARES: Well, you know when I was speaking to people here yesterday

in terms of what the Macron leaks or how that was playing out, there wasn't because of the electoral commission really asking people not to report on this media. The majority of people here were aware of what's happening, George, but the majority of them said they wouldn't be influenced whatsoever by the leaks. In fact, many are saying they've already made up their minds even though they didn't know the content of those e-mails.

So people here and in particular in northern France they know exactly who they are voting for. What I would say, though, when I asked people about 48 hours ago which way they would go there were a couple who said they were undecided voters or some of them saying they were abstaining so voting nil, and that was interesting because there was a sense you couldn't really tell whether they were holding back similar to what we saw with Brexit if you remember, the silent Brexiteers, or whether there were silent Marine Le Pen supporters, so really hard to tell.

There is huge concern of course over the Macron leaks and really those people who are undecided which way they may go. Of course we're expecting Marine Le Pen, just one final shot here, Marine Le Pen to be arriving in the next hour or so. Press is waiting. Family waiting. She is ending a campaign where she started it here, where she won the heart, the mind and hoping the vote of the people of northern France -- George.

HOWELL: Isa Soares, live in Henin Beaumont, and Melissa Bell live in the French capital at the polling places where people are making this very important decision for France. We appreciate the reporting from both of you. We'll stay in touch with you as well.

JONES: Well, the alleged hack of the Emmanuel Macron campaign team came just days, of course, before this final round of voting and it's drawn comparisons to suspected Russian hacking in the U.S. elections. The Kremlin, however, taking a proactive stance denying it was involved and calling allegations that it might have been, quote, "pure slander."

For more now on how Moscow is reacting, here's CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reports of the hacking attack on the campaign team of Emmanuel Macron, the French presidential candidate, has drawn immediate comparisons with allegations in the United States. That Russian-backed hackers tried to influence last year's presidential election there.

U.S. intelligence agencies say they have evidence that Russian hackers broke into Democratic Party servers and released sensitive e-mails intended to damage candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Macron team say that's exactly what's happened to them with this data dump designed to undermine his presidential campaign. They've been at pains not to accuse anyone directly, but previous cyber attacks on the Macron team have been blamed on Russia-backed attackers.

[04:10:06] This time the Kremlin has headed off any suggestion it was involved. The Kremlin spokesman telling CNN that these like other similar accusations are based on nothing and are pure slander. Well, the Kremlin says it has no preference which candidate wins the French presidency. But President Putin met the far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen last month and Russian banks have provided her with millions of dollars in loans.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


JONES: Matthew, thanks very much.

Dominic Thomas is a professor at the Department of French and Francophone Studies at the University of California Los Angeles and joins me now live from Paris.

Dominic, good to see you. And finally the day is here. These two candidates are polar opposites though. A stark contrast for the people of France to choose between. Just sum up, if you can, how momentous today could be for France and for Europe.

DOMINIC THOMAS, DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES AT UCLA: Right. It's been an extraordinarily complex electoral campaign. Back in 2002 Marine Le Pen's father made it through to the runoff stages and Jacques Chirac was returned to the presidency with a 65-point lead. Since then a lot has changed. Marine Le Pen took over this party in 2011. Did quite well in the 2012 elections but compared to 2007 the last time the father was there she has doubled in terms of millions of voters and the number of people that are supporting her party.

She in the last debate that took place before the second round promised to return the keys to France to the French by providing border control, a return to the French franc, trying to force a referendum on the European Union. And Emanuel Macron is absolutely opposed to all of these kinds of questions. He's being compared to Tony Blair and to some of the other young centrist, center-left leaders that have emerged in recent years and offered a completely different view of a more open, more diverse, more multi-culture France than the model of Marine Le Pen.

JONES: A tactical, Dominic, they say, don't they, that in the first round you vote for who you want and the second round, though, you vote for who you don't want in the hope that who really, really don't want doesn't get in and who -- which candidate is set to benefit the most from these sort of tactics?

THOMAS: Right. Well, this is the really interesting thing about it is that ultimately now, this time around yet again as in 2002, more people will be voting for a candidate in order to block another one than the other way around. And I think psychologically this sounds like a tremendous impact. It's all about the numbers. Marine Le Pen who's extremely unlikely to win this election will want

to demonstrate not just in percentage points, but in terms of the millions of voters that she's been able to obtain in the second round that she is the if not one of the most important political parties in France and to take that momentum into the parliamentary elections in five weeks time and Emmanuel Macron let's not forget, it does not have a party. He has a centrist movement that he has marketed as neither left nor right, and as he heads into the legislative elections in just five weeks' time, he will want to argue that the people who supported him in this second round runoff stage did not just support him in order to keep Marine Le Pen out but that they also believe in his new way of thinking about politics in France that is moving away from this left-right divide in order to propose a new centrist and democratic model and so the turnout for him will be extremely important as well.

JONES: It's extraordinary, isn't it? The fact that, yes, as you're just saying, Emmanuel Macron doesn't have a party. Marine Le Pen has stepped away temporarily at least from her party and yet both of these two do seem to have galvanized the electorate somewhat. Are we expecting high turnout or are we expecting a lot of people to spoil their ballots perhaps?

THOMAS: Right. And to abstain. So in the last 40 years turnout in the second round has always been higher. This time around it is very unlikely to be as high as it was in the first around. And that creates some uncertainty.

The only path to the presidency for Marine Le Pen is if there are massive of extensions. All the people destroy their ballots or simply don't complete them. It's still an incredibly difficult path for her mathematically. The problem is of course is that this lack of sort of turnout, and the big question really is how this will translate into the legislatives in about five weeks time. People already fatigued with this very long and divisive campaign. And as we go into the legislatives the outcome there is even more unpredictable.

We should know within a few hours how the turnout is looking but all the indications are that a substantial number of people will stay away from the polling booths.

JONES: Fascinating stuff. We are expecting both candidates to vote in the next couple of hours and we'll of course stay on top of that.

Dominic Thomas live for us in Paris, thank you.

[04:15:01] Now still coming up on CNN NEWSROOM this hour, was Michael Flynn warned about contacting Russia's ambassador before he spoke with him late last year? What members of President Trump's transition team are now saying, next.

Plus Donald Trump makes his first overseas trip as president later this month. Why the first three stops on his tour are especially significant.

Stay with us for more.



JONES: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. 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.

More now on this from CNN's Athena Jones.


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.

[04:20:14] 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.

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.


HOWELL: Athena Jones, thanks for the reporting.

Scott Lucas now joining us from Birmingham, England. He is a professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and the founder and editor of EA World View with perspective.

Good to have you with us. So the question here, is this inside baseball? That Flynn was warned about contacts with Russia's ambassador but went ahead with it anyway. Is this something that would make a difference with Americans at this point or is this simply more of Mr. Flynn's legal woes? SCOTT LUCAS, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF

BIRMINGHAM: Well, it's trying to rearrange the chairs before we have some hearings next week which could be far more significant than just inside baseball.

Let me explain. It's quite likely that Sally Yates, the former attorney general, will testify next week in a closed session hearing that she too warned the administration that Flynn was susceptible because of his contacts with the Russians including the discussions with the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And that's not going to look good so I suspect that many in the Trump transition team and administration are trying to distance themselves from Flynn. Look, we had nothing to do with this. He spoke off of his own accord to the ambassador. He went rogue.

But here's the problem. When Flynn spoke five times on December 29th before Trump took office with Kislyak, he spoke specifically about new sanctions that had been put on Moscow by the Obama administration.

Question, did Flynn go to Kislyak and talk about what might be done to limit those sanctions just off his own accord or were there others in the Trump team who are now in the Trump administration that knew about those conversations in advance?

HOWELL: That's a big question. Obviously a very important investigation taking place.

I want to pivot just a bit, though, talking about some of the same characters. The U.S. president clearly his team will be watching what happens in France closely this very important election that's playing out and the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, also will be watching given that he actually recorded a short clip urging French voters to back Macron. Both seem to have a stake in what happens in France. How important is this?

LUCAS: Well, it's important not just to the U.S. It's important to the rest of the world. In part it's important because of the mood music. And by mood music I mean worries about the economy, questions about immigration, changing populations in countries, and that's something that in France specifically Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate of the National Front, has capitalized on to try to put herself into the mainstream.

I don't think she will win today personally but if she gets a sizable vote it raises more tremors here on the idea that the old idea of the European project, the idea of trading, looking outward rather than inwards can be -- it's in danger because of hard right opposition for those who claim nationalism.

Now without linking Le Pen to Trump specifically, Donald Trump has expressed admiration for her and on top of this it appears that we've got Russian interference in the French election as we may have had French -- Russian interference in the U.S. elections. So it's that combination of hard politics influence operations with genuine worries about the economy and the future of Europe and France that are the backdrop to this election. HOWELL: It is important to see how this plays out. Just an editorial

note, though, at this point, French officials not pointing the finger directly at any specific power, though there have certainly, Scott, than many parallels drawn, many people looking at what happened in the U.S. with the hacking investigation and questioning whether that could be the same with France. We'll certainly be waiting to hear more from investigators about what's happened there in France.

Scott Lucas live for us in Birmingham, England. Thank you so much for being with us.

[04:25:03] JONES: Donald Trump makes his first overseas trip as U.S. president later this month. He will head to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. He'll also stop off in Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G-7 summits respectively. The trip itself is aimed at reassuring top U.S. allies and also to show that a new era of U.S. foreign policy is indeed underway.

Let's get more on this now from CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, certainly a big splash for a first trip for President Trump. Saudi Arabia, Israel, meeting the Pope, onto NATO to meet with leaders there in Brussels then the G-7 in Italy. In total if you added up approximately he may meet as many as 37 different leaders. He is expected to meet with the GCC, the Gulf leaders when he's in Saudi Arabia. NATO, of course, 28-member nations, including the United States. The G-7, seven nations apart from the United States there.

But what is going to be the focus when he goes to Saudi Arabia? Very likely tackling the threat of ISIS. We heard from General Mattis, now Defense Secretary James Mattis, when he went to Saudi Arabia in April barely a month ago saying that Saudi Arabia is a key pillar in the U.S. security structure within the region. The United States looking to Saudi Arabia as a key Gulf ally there for security and indeed on building up strength and support to tackle the problem of ISIS and Israel as well.

Like Saudi Arabia, both countries, they were very unhappy to say the least with President Obama when he struck that nuclear deal with Iran so we can expect Iran to be watching the early part of Trump's trip quite closely because undoubtedly Israel and Saudi Arabia there, both countries there not particularly friendly towards Iran to say the least.

And it was interesting to hear what Defense Secretary Mattis had to say when he was in Saudi Arabia and he referred to this directly. He said it's key to give support to strengthen Saudi Arabia against Iran's mischief in the region, so those will likely be some of the key threads that we'll hear emerging there as well.

That trip to Israel, President Trump has been on the record saying that he wants the support a peace initiative between the Palestinians and the Israelis so we can expect that to be on the agenda there. Perhaps when he gets to meet with the Pope they can iron out some of that differences. The Pope has been obliquely critical of President Trump during his campaign at least.

NATO meeting there, the key there will be for President Trump to know that the NATO nations are contributing their fair share of costs and at the G-7 in Sicily there, we're going to likely hear the combined view about how the international -- the G-7 nations should tackle Russia, should tackle Syria so some of the big global issues getting on the table there.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


HOWELL: Nic Robertson, thank you.

Bringing you the news from the United Kingdom and the United States this hour. This is CNN worldwide and the next story ahead, the White House's vetting process is under scrutiny after President Trump's second choice for Army secretary suddenly with draws over this past remark. Listen.


MARK GREEN, FORMER ARMY SECRETARY NOMINEE: You poll the psychiatrists they're going to tell you that transgender is a disease.


HOWELL: Plus after more than three years in captivity, dozens of Nigeria's missing Chibok schoolgirls are now going home. We'll have more on the negotiations that freed them as CNN NEWSROOM continues.


[04:32:03] HOWELL: 4:31 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast. Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell in Atlanta.

JONES: And I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones live for you in London where it's 9:32 in the morning this Sunday.

The headlines for you this hour. Voting is now underway across France in that country's presidential election. The final round of balloting comes two weeks after a preliminary vote narrowed the field to the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron. The outcome of Sunday's election could impact European politics for years to come.

HOWELL: Former Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya has been chosen as the new leader of Hamas. He replaces outgoing chief Khaled Mashaal who lives in exile in Qatar. Hamas is the militant Palestinian group that governs Gaza.

JONES: In the Philippines investigators are trying to determine who set off two bomb blasts that killed two people and wounded six others. The explosions happened hours apart in the capital Manila on Saturday. They coincided with a summit of Southeast Asian nations but police say there is no indication of any link to terrorism.

HOWELL: Libyan coast guard said it rescued more than 160 migrants off the coast of Tripoli on Saturday. Italian officials also report a busy weekend across the Mediterranean. They tell Reuters News Agency around 3,000 migrants were rescued Saturday trying to reach Europe.

Dozens of Nigeria's missing Chibok schoolgirls are finally free. Officials say 82 of the girls were released after successful negotiations between the government and the terrorist group Boko Haram. They're believed to be from the group of 276 schoolgirls stolen from their village year months ago.

CNN's Isha Sesay has been covering the story extensively and has the very latest 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.

[04:35:03] 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.


JONES: Isha, thanks for that reporting there. Well, earlier on my colleague Natalie Allen spoke to Nigeria's former minister of Education about the impact that social media had on bringing these schoolgirls back home.

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.

Hard to describe.

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.


HOWELL: It is good news to report that they have been returned. Obviously there's still others who are missing.

Now to the White House the vetting process is now being scrutinized. Multiple nominees for key government positions have been criticized and now the President Donald Trump, his second pick for Army secretary has withdrawn from consideration. Mark Green blames what he calls, quote, "false and misleading attacks against him."

Our Jessica Schneider picks this story up from New York.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Trump administration has repeatedly been criticized for its vetting process. Well, now the latest nominee for Army secretary has been forced out once again raising the question, is the Trump team getting this vetting process right?

[04:40:06] (Voice-over): Mark Green is a victim of his own words.

GREEN: If you polled psychiatrists they're going to tell you that transgender is a disease.

SCHNEIDER: Green has also made critical comments about Muslims and is a self-identified creationist who once delivered a lecture arguing against the Theory of Evolution. Now the West Point grad who was President Trump's second choice for Army secretary is taking his name out of consideration. The first pick withdrew setting financial entanglement.

Green is just the latest problematic pick for President Trump drawing doubts about the administration's vetting process. Questions are also now being raised about 28-year-old Steven Munoz. He was hired for a top job in the Office of Protocol at the State Department on January 25th. But police records first obtained by ProPublica then obtained by CNN show multiple people accused Munoz of sexual assault while he was a student at the Citadel Military College. The alleged victims came forward to college officials and police between 2010 and 2012.

Munoz was never charged with a crime. But an investigation by the Citadel revealed that based upon a preponderance of the evidence the college concluded that certain assaults likely occurred. Munoz's lawyer maintains, "The allegations were unfounded. It was a total overreaction by the Citadel to even investigate and ultimately no charges or lawsuits were brought against him."

The State Department is standing by Munoz and it's vetting procedure. A simple search would have revealed the allegations. The White House and State Department did not comment on whether they considered or knew about the allegations. Perhaps the most serious case of questionable vetting, the appointment

and subsequent resignation of former National Security adviser Michael Flynn. The retired general accepted $45,000 in speaking fees from Russian state TV in 2015 despite being warned by the Pentagon not to accept money from foreign governments and Flynn initially failed to register as a foreign agent for work he did for a Turkish owned company.

President Trump deflected responsibility pinning Flynn's approval on former President Obama.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was approved by the Obama administration at the highest level. And when they say we didn't vet, well, Obama I guess didn't vet because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): And President Trump is right. The Obama administration granted Michael Flynn a security clearance, but Flynn resigned from that post in 2014, a year before he was paid for that speech in Russia. It's something that a second background check, if done by the Trump team, may have picked up.


JONES: That report from CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Well, President Trump's former National Security adviser Michael Flynn is also under scrutiny for his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

And Jack Barsky is a former KGB spy. He spoke with CNN's Ana Cabrera about General Flynn.


JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB SPY: I'm absolutely blown away by the naivete of a senior person such as Mr. Flynn not understanding that when you get in touch with somebody in an official capacity from Russia or in the old days, the Soviet Union, you might as well talk to their Secret Service. I mean, these types of individuals are either directly associated with one of their services or at least report back. This has always been like that and the Soviet Union has been like that in my days and that hasn't changed.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: So you think it's very likely that Flynn should have known, even after he was warned as well that what he was saying could be -- well, could be scrutinized, not just by U.S. authorities by also by Russian authority?

BARSKY: I can't even grasp how somebody with that kind of an impressive background of service and intellect can fail so miserably. I mean, it goes sort of along the line I found Americans to be rather naive when it comes to the world. We think everybody should like us and we sort of like everybody. There's a lot of naivete amongst the general population. I just didn't expect this to extend to some of the highest level in government. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: The saga continues.

And coming up on CNN NEWSROOM this hour, Germany's past catches up with the present forcing thousands of people from their homes in the city of Hanover. We'll explain why after this break.


[04:47:44] JONES: It is decision time in France. Voting in the French presidential election has been well underway and there you can see live pictures of the favorite, the favorite, the frontrunner at the moment. That is Emmanuel Macron. His movement En Marche has taken France and the rest of the world really by storm. He doesn't actually have a party. It is just a movement but he is there in northern France, Le Touquet, which is on the coast of the English Channel, greeting his supporters and well-wishers and then no doubt going in to the polling station behind to cast his ballot.

He's up against of course Marine Le Pen of the Front Nationale as she has a lifetime of political activity. He, though, is relatively inexperienced. Just 39 years old. He has played a role in the Interior Ministry in France before but as an independent centrist candidate he is slightly unknown and so it will be interesting to see how the French people cast their vote today.

First round of voting he did do quite well and he is expected to garner a lot of the support that would have initially gone for his opponents other than Marine Le Pen in this second round of voting where there's tactics that come into play. People who don't want the National Front leader to take the Elysee Palace and to win this presidency. It is expected that they may indeed now vote for Emmanuel Macron. There he is in northern France.

Polling places across the country as I said have been open for several hours now. And we expect to see Marine Le Pen also casting her vote in the next hour or so as well.

And now we turn our attention to a mass evacuation underway in Hanover, in Germany. Right now 50,000 people are leaving their homes so that experts can diffuse suspected bombs dating back to World War II. They were uncovered during construction works. Hanover itself was heavily bombed in 1943 and finding unexploded ordinates more than 70 years later is not unusual.

HOWELL: Hannah, thank you there.

Back now in the United States, the state of California once had the distinction of having the worst drought in the U.S. Now that designation goes to Florida.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is here to tell us more.


[04:51:49] HOWELL: Derek, thank you. NEWSROOM back right after this.



[10:55:43] HOWELL: Welcome back. It is 10:55 live in France this hour. This image that you're seeing in Le Touquet, and this is where the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is going to cast his vote in this historic presidential election. Again keeping in mind Macron was a surprise candidate, created an independent political campaign that is different from many of the traditional campaigns that opposed him but now he is there in the lead obviously along with Marine Le Pen. The two leading candidates who French voters will decide between.

JONES: Emmanuel Macron there just been greeted by many of his supporters in Le Touquet, northern France. He has, as George was just saying, really taken the country by storm with his campaign. His movement is called En Marche. And he's about to cast his vote no doubt for himself in this second round of voting in this crucial French presidential election.

We'll have plenty more on this in the next hour. But that is a wrap of our first hour here at CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones live for you in London.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell live in Atlanta. More news right after the break. Stay with us.