Mike Pence used private email account as Indiana governor

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a ceremony in Washington, DC.  (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ese Olumhense

Pence’s AOL account

In 2016, while he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence sent and received classified emails through a personal email account, The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday.

The newspaper obtained 29 pages of records through a public records request that show that Pence routinely discussed sensitive subjects, including homeland security matters, from his AOL account. Even more damning, the report alleged, Pence’s email account was compromised by hackers last summer.

The vice president’s office, in a Thursday statement to The Indy Star, maintained that Pence had “fully complied” with the state’s laws regarding email records, though the newspaper reports that there is “no indication” that Pence took required measures to retain all of his government communications from his private account.

“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.”

Under state law, public officials aren’t barred for using personal email accounts, though those communications must be kept as they are part of state public records. Open government advocates are concerned that sending messages from private email accounts, which are not recorded on state servers like official emails, obscures needed transparency.

‘No one is above the law’

Outside of open government and web security circles, Pence’s private email use prompted political concerns because the he had been a fierce critic of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was chastised by Republicans for maintaining a private email account on which she conducted official business during her tenure as secretary of state.

In a September Meet the Press appearance, Pence said that Clinton’s handling of emails “disqualif[ied] her from serving as president,” later adding that “she either knew or should’ve known that she was placing classified information in a way that exposed it to being hacked and being made available in the public domain, even to enemies of this country,” Pence said.

There is no evidence that Clinton’s email account was ever compromised, but Pence — who had seen his own email account hacked months before that television appearance — was undeterred in his attacks, joining his then-running mate, Donald Trump, in an call for a further investigations into Clinton’s personal email server. “No one is above the law,” he tweeted in October.

Though she was never charged with any offense, Clinton was investigated for more than a year due to her use of a private email account and server, a running inquiry that tainted her campaign. Nearly half of Americans surveyed in a September 2016 poll said that they were “very concerned” by the former secretary of state’s choice to use a private email server to conduct official business.

An ‘absurd’ scandal?

Pence’s team has dismissed comparisons to the Clinton email scandal as “absurd,” as Pence did not handle federally classified information while he was governor.

Though the use of private email accounts to handle official communications has become a politicized subject, actual cybersecurity remains a major issue for government officials and other people handling sensitive data. Hackers are getting more and more sophisticated in their efforts to crack passwords, and major internet companies like Yahoo have been compromised in the past, exposing information from billions of users.

President Trump had promised to deal with cybersecurity risks during his campaign, an assurance that was to have included a review of the challenges the federal government could face and the best defenses for such perils. Trump was poised to sign an executive order on Jan. 31 about cybersecurity, but it was cancelled on that day, a White House pool report said, with “no explanation given.”

A draft copy of that order, obtained by The Washington Post, would have given the Pentagon 60 days to review the country’s national security systems. It would also have commissioned the Department of Homeland Security to embark on a 60-day review of protections of “the most critical civilian Federal Government, public, and private sector infrastructure.” Other agencies would review cyber enemies and support businesses in adopting stronger security practices.

It’s unclear when — or whether — Trump might sign the plan.