Editor's Note: The original post was not accurate concerning the terms of private email account and server. We regret the error. The post has been updated to reflect the changes.
Vice President Mike Pence used a private email account while governor of Indiana. Cue the outrage. It’s just like Hillary Clinton; the hypocrisy is thick, except that it’s not. There may have been some security issues, which is troubling, but Pence’s account was noncontroversial because there’s no law barring public officials from having private accounts. Also, he reportedly saved all of his emails and handed them over to the state per retention protocols, something that Hillary Clinton didn’t do (via Indy Star):
Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues.
Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with 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.
Cyber-security 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.
Pence's office in Washington said in a written statement Thursday: "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.”
Indiana law does not prohibit public officials from using personal email accounts, although the law is generally interpreted to mean that official business conducted on private email must be retained for public record purposes.
So, where’s the story here? A lot of what the Indianapolis Star reported concerned how both Clinton and Pence had shoddy cyber security with this account, and that Pence's AOL account was reportedly hacked last summer when a scammer sent an email to his contacts claiming that Pence and his wife were held hostage in the Philippines and needed money. You would have to be a drooling vegetable to think that anyone was dumb enough to fall for this, but the publication added that the fact Pence’s contacts were impacted means the account was probably thoroughly infiltrated. Pence later sent an apology to his contacts and created a new account. John Podesta’s email was infiltrated because the IT staffer had a typo in his email (via The Hill):
Last March, Podesta received an email purportedly from Google saying hackers had tried to infiltrate his Gmail account. When an aide emailed the campaign’s IT staff to ask if the notice was real, Clinton campaign aide Charles Delavan replied that it was “a legitimate email" and that Podesta should “change his password immediately.”
Instead of telling the aide that the email was a threat and that a good response would be to change his password directly through Google’s website, he had inadvertently told the aide to click on the fraudulent email and give the attackers access to the account.
On the issue of sensitive information, Gov. Pence would not have had classified information at the level of the secretary of state coming through his private account. Moreover, the private email account Pence used was allowed, whereas Clinton didn’t get authorization for her private email system while serving at the State Department. Yes, the Indy Star added that sensitive issues relating to homeland security were discussed, but “much if not all of that information appears to have been reported in the media at the time.”
There may be a slight issue with transparency and whether Pence actually saved all of his emails before leaving office. Right now, the Star noted that he’s involved in lawsuit with a Democratic labor lawyer trying to expose waste in his past administration; the lawsuit stems from Obama’s executive action on immigration in 2014.
The fact that he did turn over emails, that the email account was permitted, and that this was prior to him becoming vice president makes this case so much different from Hillary. Whether Pence saved AOL emails communicating to other private accounts, which would shield him from disclosure laws, is purely speculative. We know Clinton deleted 30,000 emails, including one that wasn’t turned over, where said she wanted a private system so that her personal information couldn’t be accessed—a direct contradiction to her initial reasoning for establishing this system: convenience. This is an absurd reach into the past to throw more mud at the Trump White House. Mike Pence is just like Hillary regarding email activity, or something. That’s patently false. Will Pence also be subject to an FBI investigation over his email transactions? That's unlikely.
I keep seeing these stories: “X public figure used private email!” Then I read that it was allowed, they didn’t violate the Espionage Act.— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) March 3, 2017