WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence defended his use of a personal email account to conduct state business while he was Indiana’s governor, saying “there’s no comparison” between his situation and the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign.
“There’s no comparison whatsoever,” Pence said following an event he did with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Janesville, Wisconsin, when asked about whether his situation gave him any sympathy for the Democratic presidential nominee.
Pence used a personal email when he discussed issues like the resettling of Syrian refugees and other matters on an AOL account that was hacked in a phishing scam, according to emails released Thursday.
In one September 2014 exchange, Pence asked his then-homeland security adviser John Hill for an “update of the investigation in Columbus (Indiana) following the vandalism … to area churches … Including the church I grew up in.” In another email from November 2015, Pence asked his communications staff to promote an op-ed from then-Sen. Dan Coats about Indiana’s fight to bar Syrian refugees from settling in the state.
Hill also alerted Pence to an FBI terror assessment in another exchange included in 30 pages of emails provided to CNN by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office in response to a public records request. The emails and the successful hack of Pence’s email account were first reported Thursday night by The Indianapolis Star.
It’s unclear from the release how often Pence used his AOL account for state business versus his state-provided email address.
A Pence official confirmed Friday evening that boxes of emails were delivered to the Indiana State House on Thursday. The official would not specify how many boxes, but said the emails were a mixture of messages from the governor’s personal account to state account and from his personal account to non-state governmental accounts.
The official said the emails will now be managed and handled under the Indiana Public Access to Records Act.
Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the counsel that was going through Pence’s emails attempted to deliver the boxes on January 9, which was Gov. Eric Holcomb’s inauguration day, but because the day was so hectic, the new administration was unsure where they should go. Pence’s counsel decided at the time to hold onto the boxes, Lotter said.
Earlier this week, the vice president realized that the boxes of emails had still not been delivered and asked his counsel to deliver them, according to the Pence official.
For months on the campaign trail, Pence accused Clinton of being dishonest and threatening US national security because she used an unsecured private email server while she was secretary of state. A few days before the general election, on November 2, Pence said at a rally in Colorado that the “FBI has reopened the investigation in to HRC’s private email server. It’s a serious matter. Now we commend the FBI in this case for following the facts because in America, no one is above the law.”
Pence’s email was compromised last spring, according to a Pence official, and emails were sent from his account saying that he was robbed on an overseas trip and he needed money. After the scam was discovered, he set up an entirely new private email account, the official told CNN.
Holcomb declined to release further emails citing an exemption in Indiana’s public records law that allows officials to withhold documents discussing the creation of public policy, according to The Star.
A Pence official would not comment or characterize what is in the AOL emails that have not been released. Pence spokesman Marc Lotter told CNN in a statement: “Similar to previous governors, during his time as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email.”
Lotter did not explain if previous Indiana governors also used their personal email accounts to conduct state business.
Clinton’s use of private email was the subject of a federal investigation that determined she had exchanged classified information on a server based out of her New York home. The FBI determined Clinton’s actions were not worth prosecuting, but FBI Director James Comey last summer berated her actions.
It was not immediately clear if Pence handled classified information on his her personal email account, although, as a governor, he would be less likely to do so compared to Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time.
“He did everything to the letter of the law, he turned all his emails over, unlike Hillary Clinton, who lost at least 30,000, who knows how many more, on her private server,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. Sanders added: “He’s a governor, which means he wasn’t handling classified information like she was.”
CNN submitted a public records request to the Indiana governor’s office in September for emails between Pence, using his personal AOL email, and his top staff. Pence’s office never responded to follow-up requests from CNN, but a spokeswoman for Holcomb said she was reviewing the request.
Pence used his personal AOL account to discuss state work periodically from the start of his administration in 2013.
Pence recently hired an outside lawyer to review his emails and submit them to the state, which could then be released or withheld at Holcomb’s discretion.
The Indiana Democratic Party released a statement on Thursday calling for “full disclosure” on Pence’s use of private emails. “It seems Governor Holcomb has chosen to withhold a portion of the public work product Pence sent on private servers, and Indiana Democrats want to know why.”