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Pence defends use of private AOL email account while governor

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH)  – Vice President Mike Pence defended his use a private email account during his time as Indiana’s governor during an interview Friday.

“I am very confident that our email practices were in full compliance with all of Indiana’s laws and that my service as vice president will continue that practice,” Pence told reporters during a stop in Wisconsin.

Some 30 pages of emails reveal that then-governor Pence used a private AOL account to communicate with top level staffers in state government. The emails reveal Pence’s concerns on a variety of issues – from vandalism in his hometown of Columbus to concerns about terrorism threats and his fear individuals with ties to terrorism might be trying to exploit U.S. policies helping relocate Syrian refugees.

The emails, obtained by I-Team 8 under an open records request, were first reported by The Indianapolis Star Thursday night. By Friday morning, Pence’s use of private emails was drawing more headlines and discussions on cable news because Pence had heavily criticized Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails during the presidential campaign.

Marc Lotter, a White House spokesman for Pence, told I-Team 8 the comparison was “absurd.”

When asked directly about that comparison, Pence said: “No, there is no comparison whatsoever, having a private server, mishandling classified information, destroying emails when they were requested by the Congress and by officials. We have fully complied with Indiana’s laws. We had outside counsel review all of my private email records to identify any emails that ever referenced or mentioned business, state business activities. And as Indiana law requires, we transferred all those to the state of Indiana to be compliant with the public access laws.”

In one of the emails obtained by I-Team 8, Governor Pence responds “wow” after his former chief of staff sends him excerpts from a speech by Texas Congressman Michael McCaul. During the speech given in December of 2015, McCaul revealed what Pence feared – that intelligence officials had warned that terrorism suspects might be trying to exploit the U.S. refugee program.

A month before that December 2015 email was sent to Pence’s AOL account, Pence had directed state agencies to stop providing federal assistance to providers trying to help Syrian refugees relocate in Indiana. Pence’s plan was later shut down by a federal appeals court in Chicago.

In June of last year, a state official mentioned in passing during a task force meeting that he had received an email from Pence’s AOL account stating that Pence and his wife Karen were stranded in the Phillipines. A White House official confirmed to I-Team 8 that Pence’s AOL account was hacked as part of phishing scam and later shut down.

Tom Gorup with Cyber Security firm Rook Security in Carmel, told I-Team 8 that Pence’s government issued email account would have been “significantly more secure” than his AOL account.

“I would say significantly more secure. I would say because of the protection mechanism that the government puts in place … it is a lot more secure,” he told I-Team 8 during an interview Friday.

The governor moved to a different AOL account with additional security measures, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said, but has since stopped using the new personal account since he was sworn-in as vice president.

Lotter said Pence “maintained a state email account and a personal email account” like previous governors in the state. At the end of his term, Pence directed outside counsel to review all of his communications to ensure that state-related emails were transferred and properly archived by the state, the spokesman said.

As Trump’s running mate, Pence frequently criticized rival Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, accusing her of purposely keeping her emails out of public reach and shielding her from scrutiny.

Lotter said “the comparison is absurd” because Clinton had set up a private server in her home at the start of her tenure at the State Department and, unlike Clinton, Pence did not handle any classified material as Indiana’s governor.

The newspaper reported that the office of Pence’s successor, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, released more than 30 pages from Pence’s AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of emails because they were considered confidential.

Public officials are not barred from using personal email accounts under Indiana law, but the law is interpreted to mean that any official business conducted on private email must be retained to comply with public record laws.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders made this statement aboard Air Force One on Friday:

There’s light years of difference. Number one he was a governor, he wasn’t a federal employee, which means the laws are different. It’s subject to Indiana law not federal law. Second he’s a governor which means he wasn’t handling class info like she was, and third all of his emails he turned over specifically to be archived, which is why anybody even knows about the account. He did everything to the letter of the law in Indiana, turned all of his emails over, unlike Hillary Clinton who lost at least 30,000, who knows how many more, had a private server, classified information which he didn’t have. That’s apples to oranges comparison.”

The state requires all records pertaining to state business to be retained and available for public information requests. Emails involving state email accounts are captured on the state’s servers, but any emails that Pence may have sent from his AOL account to another private account would need to be retained.

At the end of his term, Pence hired the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to conduct a review of all of his communications and that review is still ongoing, Lotter said. Any correspondence between Pence’s AOL account and any aides using a state email account would have been automatically archived, he said.

Here is Lotter’s full statement to WISH-TV:

Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As then-Governor Pence concluded his time in office, he directed outside counsel to review all of his communications to ensure that state-related emails are being transferred and properly archived by the state, in accordance with the law, which outside counsel has done and is continuing to do. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”

Read the released emails below:

The AP contributed to this report.

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