White House defends Pence’s use of private email
Washington — A White House spokeswoman said Friday that Vice President Mike Pence “did everything to the letter of the law” after public records revealed that he used a private email account to conduct public business as Indiana’s governor.
The Indianapolis Star reported that emails provided through a public records request show that Pence communicated with advisers through his personal AOL account on homeland security matters and security at the governor’s residence during his four years as governor.
The governor also faced email security issues. Pence’s AOL account was subjected to a phishing scheme last spring, before he was chosen by Donald Trump to join the GOP presidential ticket. Pence’s contacts were sent an email falsely claiming that the governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money.
As Trump’s running mate, Pence frequently criticized rival Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, accusing her of purposely keeping her emails out of public reach and shielding her from scrutiny.
Sarah Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, doubled down on that defense, stressed to reporters on Air Force One that state and federal laws are different and claiming that is efforts to turn over the messages to be archived are “why anybody even knows about the account.”
“He did everything to the letter of the law,” she said.
Pence spokesman Marc Lotter added that “the comparison is absurd” because Clinton had set up a private server in her home at the start of her tenure at the State Department and, unlike Clinton, Pence did not handle any classified material as Indiana’s governor.
The governor moved to a different AOL account with additional security measures, but has since stopped using the new personal account since he was sworn-in as vice president, said Lotter.
Lotter said Pence “maintained a state email account and a personal email account” like previous governors in the state. At the end of his term Pence directed outside counsel to review all of his communications to ensure that state-related emails were transferred and properly archived by the state, the spokesman said.
The newspaper reported that the office of Pence’s successor, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, released more than 30 pages from Pence’s AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of emails because they were considered confidential.
Public officials are not barred from using personal email accounts under Indiana law, but the law is interpreted to mean that any official business conducted on private email must be retained to comply with public record laws.
The state requires all records pertaining to state business to be retained and available for public information requests. Emails involving state email accounts are captured on the state’s servers, but any emails that Pence may have sent from his AOL account to another private account would need to be retained.
At the end of his term, Pence hired the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to conduct a review of all of his communications and that review is still ongoing, Lotter said. Any correspondence between Pence’s AOL account and any aides using a state email account would have been automatically archived, he said.