INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana officials are refusing to release an indeterminate number of emails
from private AOL.com accounts Mike Pence used as governor, and they’re not
saying whether the vice president’s lawyers influenced which messages should
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 fans and documents so heavily redacted they’re
“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 on Monday.
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 press 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
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 open-ended, giving state officials wide latitude to shield from
disclosure documents containing internal debates, advice or speculation.
Holcomb’s office also declined to provide an accounting of the number of
emails it withheld because 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.”
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 state 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 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
Still, one of
Pence’s AOL.com accounts was subject to a phishing scheme in spring 2016,
when his contacts were sent an email falsely claiming that the governor and
his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money.
request, Pence’s attorneys provided guidance about what could be withheld,
state records show. Holcomb’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Wilson, declined to
comment specifically on how much weight was given to that advice but said
the governor’s office is “independently evaluating” disclosure decisions.
presented himself as a champion of the free press, but his office regularly
delayed or withheld documents when he was governor.
It was only after
Pence’s use of the private AOL accounts was widely reported in March that he
handed over 13 boxes of paper copies. A searchable electronic database
wasn’t provided to state officials until July, as they faced a backlog of
more than 50 records requests for Pence’s emails from news organization,
activists and political parties, among others.
As governor, Pence
stuck to a tight script, often offering vague talking points instead of
concrete detail. The records could offer a window into weighty public policy
decisions Pence made.
religious objections law, he also drew negative attention over new abortion
restrictions he signed into law, and a standoff he had with the Catholic
Church over attempts to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in
Indiana also faced
two high-profile public health crises during his time in office. Public
health officials have said Pence’s initial reluctance to allow needle
exchanges exacerbated a southern Indiana HIV outbreak tied to intravenous
drug use. In 2016, lead contamination from a superfund site in northwest
Indiana eventually led to the evacuation of a housing complex.