Indiana officials are refusing to release an indeterminate number of emails from private AOL.com accounts that Mike Pence used while he was governor, and they’re not saying whether the vice president’s lawyers influenced which messages should be withheld.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office has released more than 1,300 pages of his predecessor’s emails, although most of the documents — released in multiple batches over recent months — contain little substance. They largely consist of correspondence from staffers sharing press releases or news articles, laudatory notes from Pence’s supporters and documents so heavily redacted that they’re barely readable.
“It’s hard to justify withholding information after a governor leaves office,” said Nate Jones, of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which advocates for government transparency. “It makes it look like they aren’t subscribing to good open government practices.”
A Pence spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.
The Associated Press has sought emails from Pence’s private AOL accounts, which he regularly used for state business, since shortly after he was tapped to be Donald Trump’s running mate in July 2016.
The emails released to date reveal little about some of the divisive topics that defined Pence’s term as governor, including a religious objections law he signed in 2015 that critics decried as discriminatory against gays. Amid the national backlash, Pence held a news conference to push back, hired a crisis management firm and ultimately signed a “fix” into law.
But 293 pages of recently released emails about the controversy predominantly consist of news story summaries and links. A few show Pence staffers providing an opinion article to the Wall Street Journal. And one exchange alerts him that the publication of a critical story was postponed. Left out, however, was any meaningful discussion about one of the most difficult situations he faced as governor.
Indiana has a weaker public records law than many states, and Holcomb’s office says it can withhold records deemed “advisory” or “deliberative.” Those classifications are undefined, giving state officials wide latitude to shield from disclosure documents containing internal debates, advice or speculation. Holcomb’s office also declined to provide a count of the emails it withheld because it said state law doesn’t require it.
“Not knowing what they are withholding is a big disadvantage to the public,” said Gerry Lanosga, an Indiana University journalism professor and former investigative reporter. “Without at least an index or some detail about what those records are, it’s hard not to be skeptical.”
During the presidential campaign, Pence suggested that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while secretary of State disqualified her from becoming president because it threatened national security. His aides have said charges of hypocrisy regarding his own private email use 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.
Pence aides have said he that he had an Indiana government email account, but it is unclear if he regularly used it. Most records released before and after he was governor either obscured his email account domain name or show they were routed to an AOL.com account.