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Emmanuel Macron's French presidential campaign hacked

By Steve Almasy CNN

(CNN) -- The frontrunner in France's presidential race, Emmanuel Macron, has been the victim of a "massive and coordinated hacking operation," his campaign team has said, slamming the attack as a last-ditch attempt to undermine the candidate's lead.

The document dump happened on Friday night, less than 48 hours before the country votes in the final round of the presidential election, which pits the independent centrist Macron against the far-right's Marine Le Pen.

The files were released just before 2 p.m. ET Friday, around four hours before election restrictions came into effect. The restrictions are aimed at preventing last-minute scandals from emerging and influencing the election's outcome.

Around 14.5 gigabytes of emails, personal and business documents were posted to the text-sharing site Pastebin through links to more than 70,000 files, a CNN look at the data shows.

Officials from Macron's En Marche! party said in a statement that the perpetrators of the hack had mixed fake documents with authentic ones "in order to create confusion and misinformation."

"The leak happened in the last hours of the campaign. This operation is clearly meant to undermine democracy, just like what happened in the US during the last presidential campaign," the statement read.

US intelligence officials have said Russia meddled in the November elections, and Congress is investigating the allegations. Russia has denied any interference.

"The files that are circulated were obtained several weeks ago following the hacking of personal and professional mail boxes," En Marche! said.

Hackers targeted Macron's campaign using methods similar to the suspected Russian hacks in the US targeting the Democratic National Committee last year, according to a report issued in April by cybersecurity researchers. Clinton's rival, Donald Trump, won the election after information from Clinton's campaign was released just before the vote.

Macron a strong favorite

Macron, if successful in Sunday's final vote, would become the youngest President in the history of France and the nation's youngest leader since Napoleon.

The 39-year-old independent centrist has led a remarkable campaign, defying the traditional mainstream parties courtesy of his En Marche! movement. For many, however, the campaign has become less about backing Macron, and instead voting against Le Pen, running as the far-right National Front's candidate.

French President Francois Hollande, Republican candidate Francois Fillon and the Socialist Party's Benoit Hamon have come together to back Macron, claiming a Le Pen presidency would be disastrous for France.

But Macron also has his critics, who see him as an elite who is out of touch with the public.

A former economy minister who made his millions as an investment banker, Macron has been attacked from both the left and the right for his perceived arrogance.

But two polls released Friday suggest he still holds a 20-point lead.

Russian involvement?

When asked whether Russia is involved in the Macron email hack, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said,"These, like other similar accusations, are based on nothing and are pure slander."

Russian officials have vehemently denied interfering in elections and have said they have no preferred candidate in the French vote.

But Russia has good reasons to support Le Pen over Macron.

Le Pen's anti-Europe and anti-NATO stance are perfectly aligned with Russian interests, and Le Pen has consistently called for closer ties with President Vladimir Putin.

She has also expressed a desire to roll back European Union sanctions levied on Russia after Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which she has described as "unfair and silly."

It is a stance that contrasts markedly with Macron, a pro-EU, pro-integration candidate who has said he would keep sanctions on Russia in place, if not add to them.

CNN's Paul Murphy, Lonzo Cook, James Masters and Eva Tapiero contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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