Indiana is paying a law firm $100,000 to help deal with a backlog of public records requests, most of which seek access to emails from Vice-President Mike Pence’s tenure as governor, including correspondence routed through a private AOL.com account he used to conduct state business.
Pence’s AOL account was subjected to a phishing scheme last spring, before Donald Trump chose him to join the Republican presidential ticket in a campaign marked by fierce attacks on the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Pence’s contacts were sent an email falsely claiming that the governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money.
The governor moved to a different AOL account with additional security measures, but he stopped using that personal account after he was sworn in as vice-president in January, spokesman Marc Lotter has said.
The hacking of Pence’s private emails led some to raise questions of hypocrisy after he frequently attacked Clinton on the campaign trail, arguing that she could have jeopardized national security if her emails got into the wrong hands.
Lotter has said charges of hypocrisy are unfair because there is a big difference between the secretary of state’s correspondence about sensitive national matters and business conducted by a governor through a private address.
The administration of Pence’s successor as governor, Eric Holcomb, entered a one-year contract last month with a Shelbyville firm, McNeely Stephenson, to handle the “unusually high” number of requests, records show.
More than 50 such requests are pending before Holcomb, who was Pence’s hand-picked replacement on the state ballot last November. The vast majority seek correspondence Pence had with staffers and political groups, including emails that were routed through his private email account, according to documents previously obtained by the Associated Press through a public records request.
The requests are from private citizens, law firms, political parties and news organizations including the AP.
One factor that has exacerbated the delay is a lack of digital access to Pence’s emails. Thirteen boxes containing paper copies of the emails were turned over to the governor’s office earlier this year, but a review is ongoing and there may be more records that have yet to be turned over.
Lee McNeely, the firm’s managing partner, said the firm is trying to get digital access to the emails, which would speed up the process. “There’s a lot of activity going on. We’re working as hard as we can and try to fight our way through it,” he said.
Pence spokesman Lotter did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Saturday. Last month, he told the AP: “Documents relating to Governor Pence’s official service to Indiana are being preserved by the state in full compliance with the law.”
Pence has touted himself as a champion of a free press and the first amendment, though he repeatedly stonewalled public records requests as governor, often withholding documents or delaying their release if not denying them outright. Earlier this year, his lawyers argued unsuccessfully in a lawsuit that Indiana courts had no authority to force him to comply with public records law.
SOURCE: The Associated Press