Pence turns over 13 boxes of emails amid controversy

INDIANAPOLIS - Attorneys for Vice President Pence delivered 13 boxes of state-related emails to the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday in an effort to make sure they are archived as required by law.

The move came the same day The Indianapolis Star revealed that Pence used a personal AOL account to conduct public business as Indiana governor, raising questions about whether all of his emails regarding state matters were within public reach during his time in office.

“Yesterday we received a large delivery of paper documents,” said Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb, who succeeded Pence in January. "And we understand there is more to come."

She said state officials have not fully reviewed the contents yet.

"It’s been expressed to us that a lot of what’s in those boxes, if not everything, we already have," she said. "But we haven’t verified that."

Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the records contain emails to and from government accounts, as well as emails between Pence's AOL email account and other non-state government email accounts. He declined to characterize the emails beyond that.

Although he did not mention it during an interview earlier in the day, Lotter said Friday night that Pence's attorneys first attempted to deliver boxes of emails Jan. 9, Pence's last day in office. But Lotter said that amid Holcomb's inauguration activities, there was a "lack of clarity (about) what to do with them," so the attorneys brought the records back to the law firm's offices.

When Pence learned this week that the emails hadn't been delivered, he directed the attorneys to take them to Holcomb's office.

In his first public response Friday, Pence said he has "fully complied with Indiana's laws."

"We had outside counsel review all of my previous email records to identify any that ever mentioned or referenced state business," he said at an event in Janesville, Wis.

Indiana law requires all records dealing with state business to be retained and available for public information requests.

Emails exchanged on state accounts are captured on state servers, which can be searched in response to such requests. But any emails Pence sent from his AOL account to another private account likely would have been hidden from public record searches unless he took steps to make them available.

Lotter said any emails Pence sent to or from a state government account have always been available for public record searches. But he said he couldn't say whether exchanges about state matters between Pence's AOL account and other private accounts were made available for review in response to public record searches throughout his term as governor.

Pence's office said Thursday that his campaign hired the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to review his emails during his time as governor to ensure compliance with Indiana law. That review began as he was leaving the governor's office and is ongoing, his office said.

Lotter said private-to-private communications involving public business would be a "small subset" of the emails under review.

Transparency advocates and ethics experts say Pence's actions now suggest that emails from his personal account involving state business should have been made available throughout his four years as governor.

"We shouldn’t be accidentally discovering that officials from the governor down to school board members are conducting public business on private communication channels," said Gerry Lanosga, an Indiana University professor and past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. "That’s not the way it should work."

IndyStar reported Thursday that Pence routinely used his personal email account for public business, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues.

Nearly 30 emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated with his top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.

Cybersecurity experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence's are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence's personal account was hacked last summer.

An unspecified number of additional emails were withheld by the Holcomb administration because they were deliberative, confidential or attorney work product.

Concerns also surrounded Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and email account during her tenure as secretary of state. Pence as governor likely would not have dealt with national security issues as sensitive or as broad as those handled by Clinton in her position or with classified matters.

Pence fiercely criticized Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, accusing her of trying to keep her emails out of public reach and exposing classified information to potential hackers.

Pence said Friday his situation and Clinton's are completely different.

"There's no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton's practice — having a private server, misusing classified information, destroying emails when they were requested by the Congress," he said.

USA TODAY Network


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