Mike Pence has finally turned over his state-related emails in response to numerous pending public records requests. But his lawyers are the ones deciding what "state-related" means, and accountability watchdogs are not happy about that.
Mike Pence tried for as long as he could to obstruct public efforts to access the private AOL email account through which he conducted official business as governor of Indiana.
Now the Indy Star reports that he had finally turned over the remaining state-related emails near the end of June — almost six months after leaving the governor’s office.
But government accountability groups are doubtful that we have the whole story, as Pence is hiding behind his corporate lawyers to attempt to avoid further scrutiny.
Zachary Baiel, the president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, asked a crucial question: “What is the criteria his private law firm used to determine what is private use and what is state use?”
And Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana pointed out that the marked delay in submitting the emails is also a matter of concern. “It certainly feels like the Pence folks were dragging their feet,” she said. And people will wonder why.
This trove of emails is in electronic format, rather than the harder-to-search paper form like the previous batches, but it was Pence’s lawyers who made the determination about which emails could be considered “state-related.”
Neither the [current Indiana governor Eric] Holcomb administration nor Pence’s office would disclose how many emails from Pence’s AOL accounts have now been transferred electronically to the state, and it remains unclear how many of those emails were previously unavailable for public record searches.
Pence’s attorneys are only providing emails they consider to be related to state business, but [Pence spokesperson Marc] Lotter did not answer questions about how those determinations are being made.
There is plenty of reason for watchdog groups and the public as a whole to doubt the veracity and trustworthiness of Pence and his team.
Putting up such stubborn resistance to the more than 50 public records requests already made it clear that Pence likely had much to hide within those private, yet official, emails.
Many of the requests were related to controversial and unpopular policies Pence promoted as governor, such as the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which sought to enshrine anti-LGBTQ bigotry into law; the role that Pence’s cuts to Planned Parenthood played in a worsening HIV epidemic; and a frightening spread of lead poisoning among 1,000 residents in East Chicago, Indiana.
Pence may not want the public to discover the whole damaging story on these issues, but the public certainly has the right to know.
And it was always rather rich for Pence to have used a private AOL email account to conduct extensive official business, and then to attempt to hide the contents of those emails, when he joined Donald Trump and other Republicans in lambasting Hillary Clinton over her own use of private emails.
But he has already proven himself to be just as unfit for office, and unwilling to meet its standards, as his boss.