US Vice President Mike Pence has been accused of hypocrisy after it was revealed he used his personal AOL account for state government business.
That Pence had a personal AOL account was public knowledge – rather embarrassingly, it was hacked last year and the intruder sent out emails to his contacts saying he had been mugged in the Philippines and needed money. Now emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Indianapolis Star on Thursday show the AOL account was used for sensitive Indiana state government business.
The 29 pages of messages show discussions between Pence – the then-Indiana governor – and his staff concerning terrorist arrests, security details about the governor's mansion, and terror attacks in Canada. Some emails were withheld by Indiana's latest governor Eric Holcomb on the grounds that they were confidential.
"Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account," a spokesman for Pence told the paper.
"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."
Then again it has to be somewhat embarrassing for Pence, who, like his new boss Donald Trump, spent much of the US Presidential election campaign excoriating Hillary Clinton for misusing a private email server for work while Secretary of State under President Obama.
Admittedly, you can't directly compare Pence's email setup to Clinton's system, but that doesn't stop this tweet last year from looking rather awkward:
.@realDonaldTrump and I commend the FBI for reopening an investigation into Clinton's personal email server because no one is above the law.— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 28, 2016
Pence's spokesman Marc Lotter said any comparison between Clinton and Pence's use of email was "absurd," stressing that Big Mike didn't handle federally classified material as a governor.
Essentially, it was not illegal for Pence to use his personal email for work in Indiana, although he ought to have CC'd his official account when discussing state business – and he doesn't appear to have done so, judging from the released messages. Clinton was not outright banned from using a private system. However, she was required to maintain an easily accessible archive of her work messages for transparency and Freedom of Information Act purposes. If she used her state.gov address for all correspondence, it could have been archived by her department's IT, rather than a close circle of aides with fingers hovering over the delete button.
Pence said he didn't handle any classified material, although some of his emails were not disclosed to the Star because "the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public." That's troubling.
Meanwhile, Clinton said she did not knowingly exchange classified info via her private inbox. However, the FBI concluded she had been "extremely careless" with protected government material, after agents found a handful of messages marked "confidential" scattered through discussion threads. Clinton was investigated but no prosecution was brought; Pence is not, as yet, being probed at all.
Finally, it was feared Clinton's server would be hacked and ransacked for classified and other juicy information by foreign spies. There is no evidence that happened. On the other hand, Pence's inbox was actually broken into.
In short, as far as Pence's critics are concerned, the use of a private email account by the then-governor for sensitive state business – an account that was actually compromised – smacks of hypocrisy.
"There is an issue of double standard here," said Gerry Lanosga, a professor at Indiana University and past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. "He has been far from forthcoming about his own private email account on which it's clear he has conducted state business. So there is a disconnect there that cannot be avoided." ®