On The Eve Of French Election, Hackers Release Data From Macron Campaign

May 6, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program today in France, where the most unpredictable and consequential presidential election in decades provided one last twist before the French head to the polls tomorrow. Hackers released a trove of information stolen from the campaign of frontrunner Emmanuel Macron onto the Internet. Earlier today, I spoke with NPR's Frank Langfitt in Paris. He's been covering the election. I started by asking what was in the documents and whether they're believed to be authentic.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's about nine gigs, mostly emails. Nothing explosive has surfaced yet. And the Macron camp is saying a lot of the documents are real, but there are also some fakes mixed in to try to undermine him.

MARTIN: Is there any sense of what the tenor of those is? Or - I understand that it's a lot of material to go through, but what's the tenor of it? Is it personal? Is it about campaign strategy?

LANGFITT: It's campaign strategy. I think it might be campaign finance. It's stuff like this. What's interesting is that it's not getting a lot of play here because the electoral authorities are saying because we're in a blackout period where the campaign isn't supposed to talk, the media isn't supposed to talk about this race, they've told people that if they disseminate it they could be breaking the law.

MARTIN: So what's been the response to this?

LANGFITT: I spent a couple of hours walking around central Paris, and the leaks just aren't - actually, they're not getting much traction at all. Most people I talked to had not heard of the leaks. And even the people who had heard weren't interested. They see it as a ploy to kind of distract the voters. And I was talking to this doctor, her name's Juliette Raffort. She's a Macron supporter. And she thinks that this is coming so late in the race it's just not going to have much impact.

JULIETTE RAFFORT: I don't think that people are going to be influenced by it. I think that they will vote with political opinion rather than taking into account these documents.

MARTIN: Do we have any sense of who is behind these leaks?

LANGFITT: No, we don't know for sure. There's certainly been no claim of responsibility. The cybersecurity firm Trend Micro, they said that Russian intelligence unit tried to hack the accounts of Macron campaign officials back in March. The Kremlin has denied involvement, as it always does. But most people in the street, when I talk to them, they blame Russia.

MARTIN: What would be Russia's motive?

LANGFITT: A lot of motives actually. I think the Russians would probably like to damage Macron and help his opponent, Marine Le Pen. You know, Marine Le Pen, she wants to take France out of the European Union, help Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, who would like to weaken Europe. He's anti-NATO. And Marine Le Pen's been very friendly to Putin. She recognized his annexation of Crimea. The other thing that people here say is this might just be kind of an attempt to muddy the waters and undermine confidence in, you know, electoral democracy.

MARTIN: Speaking of Marine Le Pen, polls show her significantly trailing Macron. Can you just tell us a little bit more about what the outlook is for election day for her tomorrow?

LANGFITT: Well, right now, recent polls show Macron up over 60 percent. Of course, we've learned to be very skeptical of polls given what happened in the U.K. Brexit vote and President Trump's victory. But it's not looking very good for her right now.

MARTIN: You covered Brexit, as you just mentioned, in the U.K. You certainly watched the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. Le Pen is a populist, and there are echoes of Donald Trump in her campaign, many. Would her defeat signal a rejection of this kind of populism in France?

LANGFITT: It all depends on how she does, frankly. I mean, you've got to remember, if you go back many years ago, the National Front Party was a political pariah here. The last time the National Front got into a presidential runoff like this one was back in 2002. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father, got clobbered. He was the candidate. He got less than 18 percent of the vote.

If Marine Le Pen gets even 40 percent it's kind of a win. And she'll argue credibly that her party's gone mainstream even though it's anti-immigrant, wants to build borders and leave the euro. I was talking to a guy named Thomas Vitiello. He teaches at Sciences Po. It's one of the top universities here in France. And he says he doesn't think Marine Le Pen's going away.

THOMAS VITIELLO: She's definitely playing a long game. I think she never thought that she could actually win the 2017 presidential election. Her objective is 2022.

MARTIN: What's she said about that?

LANGFITT: She hasn't talked about running in the future. But I think, you know, she's been at this a long time. And if you watch the way she's playing, I think her strategy would be to hope that someone like Macron struggles for the next five years and then she goes up against him in 2022.

MARTIN: That's Frank Langfitt in Paris, where we can hear the church bells.

LANGFITT: Yes, you can hear the church bells (laughter).

MARTIN: All right. Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.