On Saturday, March 4, 2017, Vice President Mike Pence complained via Twitter that the Associated Press printed the personal email address used by his wife, Karen, although the email address is still active and she is not a politician. He also tweeted a link to a letter that his lawyer sent Gary Pruitt, the President and CEO of the Associated Press about the matter.
Critics believe that this is merely another example of Republicans trying to “change the narrative” so that news outlets and the public focus less on their wrongdoings. In this case, an investigative news report revealed this week that Pence used his private email address to conduct government and homeland security matters while he was governor of Indiana and that his account had been hacked by a scammer last summer. This action is newsworthy on its own because of the huge breach in security it represents. In combination with Pence’s repeated criticisms of Hillary Clinton for the same actions, the bigger story is the vice president’s hypocritical behavior. Worse yet, Pence actively attempted to block the release of his emails to the government and public by Friday even though both he and the president urged members of the public to hack and release Clinton’s emails while on the campaign trail.
Pence claimed in the letter and tweets that his wife received hate mail because of the AP story. He demanded the removal of the address and an apology. The AP did remove it as soon as they confirmed that it was in fact still an active account. Pence’s lawyer referred to the AP’s actions as reckless and irresponsible and called the conduct of the publisher “reprehensible.” As pointed out by several media outlets, Karen Pence’s email address was part of a records release accessible to the public.
After the surprising revelation on Thursday, March 3, that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal home-based AOL email address to conduct government business and interact with homeland security representatives and speak about sensitive security matters, Pence released to the state 13 boxes of emails. His representatives also indicated that more emails were forthcoming.
A spokesperson for the current governor, Eric Holcomb, told the media that Pence’s contacts informed them that the state had in its public records “a lot” of these emails already on file, but no one has yet confirmed these claims. In Indiana, no law prevents state employees from using personal email accounts to contact government accounts and conduct business. Pence saved government data on private AOL servers during the nearly four years that he was the governor of Indiana.
One concern so far is that the state doesn’t currently have all of Pence’s emails because he apparently hid his use of his private email account and failed to hand over the records when he left office. Marc Lotter, a spokesperson for Pence, implied Friday that this has been a case of miscommunication. He claimed that Pence’s lawyers attempted to hand over all of the records on January 9, but Holcomb’s people were unable to give them guidance on where to take the records.
Pence’s critics were quick to point out that his staff should have already known where to take the records. They noted that if the records had been previously printed and prepared, then the vice president’s lawyers should have been able to take all of the emails to Indiana state offices on Thursday after the story broke. Since many of the emails were confidential in nature, those emails are currently unavailable to the public. Some are also supposedly still being reviewed by Pence’s lawyers.
The office of Vice President Pence handed over thirteen boxes of emails to the Indiana state government on Thursday to be archived in accordance with state law. The delivery of the emails came in the midst of a controversy about former Governor Pence using a private AOL account to carry on state business.
The emails were turned over pursuant to state transparency requirements that require emails be archived for public review. The emails include government accounts on state government servers and from the former governor’s AOL account that the Indianapolis Star reveal existed this week. While state law in Indiana allows government officials to use private emails for government business, cyber-security experts argue that private accounts are less secure than government accounts. The Star also reported that Governor Pence’s AOL account had been hacked and been used to send out fraudulent solicitations for money.
The revelations of Pence’s private email account has sent the Washington media establishment into a feeding frenzy. Many Democrats have accused Pence and the Republicans of hypocrisy in attacking Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in her capacity as Secretary of State. Vice-President Pence has responded that there is no comparison as no email were destroyed and he was not handling classified information. In a prepared statement released by the Vice-President’s office “Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”
Attorneys for Pence stated that they had tried to deliver the Vice-President’s emails back in January on his last day as governor. However, they were returned due to a lack of clarity as to what to do with them.
On Friday, March 3, 2017, a passenger aboard an American Airlines’ flight posted a photo online of Hillary Clinton who happened to also be traveling on the same plane. By Saturday, the image drew worldwide praise from Clinton supporters and critics of Vice President Mike Pence because it aptly displayed the irony of the situation. It showed Clinton holding her cellphone in her hands while distracted by a headline on a USA Today newspaper: “Pence used personal email in office.”
On the presidential campaign trail, Pence heavily criticized Clinton for discussing government topics as Secretary of State via a private email account and server. He and Donald Trump both demanded that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department go after Clinton for breaking the law claiming that “no one is above the law.” They claimed that Clinton’s actions made it possible for hackers and state actors to access classified sensitive information, but no federal laws existed that stated Clinton couldn’t use her personal account. The FBI failed to prove during two separate investigations that Clinton’s account was ever hacked. In fact, the so-called WikiLeaks “Clinton emails” are only about or from Clinton. They were taken from John Podesta’s personal Gmail account and not hacked directly from her account.
Trump used the scandal to convince his supporters that Clinton was a criminal and incompetent. The words “Lock her up!” along with imprisonment signs were common themes during his campaign. Yet, now Trump is facing the fact that his vice president was apparently even more “extremely careless” with sensitive government data since Pence’s personal AOL account was actually hacked last summer. Critics wonder when the president plans to start asking the FBI and Justice to investigate Pence and “Lock him up!” even though Pence claims that he broke no actual laws.