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Monday, March 06, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Pence used personal email for state business — and was hacked"

Updating this ILB post from March 3rd, which quoted Tony Cook's initial IndyStar story, that story was followed by this one later on the same day, detailing "IndyStar's long-running effort to obtain the Pence emails." Some quotes:

In 2014, IndyStar was investigating a possible conflict of interest involving Seema Verma, a powerful state health care consultant who was simultaneously working for one of the state’s largest Medicaid contractors. Verma is now President Donald Trump’s pick to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In conjunction with that investigation, IndyStar requested emails involving Verma and one of Pence’s cabinet members with whom she butted heads.

About nine months later — well after IndyStar published its report on Verma — the Pence administration provided nearly 1,500 pages of emails.

Tucked among them was an email to Pence’s personal AOL account from a low-level Pence staffer who was forwarding a news clip from the local business journal.

At that time, it was unknown whether he used the personal email address routinely for state business or to discuss sensitive issues.

The use of private emails to conduct public business later exploded as a major 2016 presidential campaign issue. That’s when IndyStar filed a public records request seeking emails from Pence’s personal account.

What ensued was a monthslong effort to access those records.

In September, IndyStar requested all emails between Pence’s AOL account and any state government account, but his administration declined to fulfill that request, arguing it was too broad. IndyStar narrowed its request, but the administration again argued it was too broad.

In a third public records query, IndyStar narrowed its request to meet the administration’s parameters that it name a specific sender and recipient and include a date range of no more than six months and search terms.

Pence’s office accepted that request. Shelley Triol, Pence’s communications director, said on Oct. 27, “we will send responsive records on a rolling basis as they are located and reviewed for confidential material.”

But Pence’s office never did provide any records.

In the weeks before he left the governor’s office, IndyStar filed a complaint with the public access counselor, arguing that the administration had failed to provide the records in a timely manner and expressing concerns about how the records request would be fulfilled since the incoming administration would have no access to Pence’s personal email account.

The access counselor decided in the state’s favor, arguing that Pence’s transition to the White House presented extenuating circumstances.

Despite the setback, IndyStar continued to pursue the records under the new administration of Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Late this past week, Holcomb's office released 29 pages of emails, but withheld an unknown number of others, arguing they are exempt from Indiana's records laws.

IndyStar continues to pursue additional records, as well as more information about those the Holcomb administration is withholding.

That evening, and updated Sat. morning, reporter Cook reported in a new story, headed "Pence turns over to state 13 boxes of emails amid controversy." The long story begins:
Attorneys for Vice President Mike Pence delivered 13 boxes of state-related emails to the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday in an effort to make sure they are archived as required by law.

The move came the same day IndyStar revealed that Pence used a personal AOL account to conduct public business as Indiana governor, raising questions about whether all of his emails regarding state matters were within public reach during his time in office.

“Yesterday we received a large delivery of paper documents,” said Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb, who succeeded Pence in January. "And we understand there is more to come."

She said state officials have not fully reviewed the contents yet.

"It’s been expressed to us that a lot of what’s in those boxes, if not everything, we already have," she said. "But we haven’t verified that."

Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the records contain emails to and from government accounts, as well as emails between Pence's AOL email account and other non-state government email accounts. He declined to characterize the emails beyond that.

Although he did not mention it during an interview earlier in the day, Lotter said Friday night that Pence's attorneys first attempted to deliver boxes of emails Jan. 9, Pence's last day in office. But Lotter said that amid Holcomb's inauguration activities, there was a "lack of clarity (about) what to do with them," so the attorneys brought the records back to the law firm's offices.

When Pence learned this week that the emails hadn't been delivered, he directed the attorneys to take them to Holcomb's office.

In his first public response Friday, Pence said he has "fully complied with Indiana's laws."

"We had outside counsel review all of my previous email records to identify any that ever mentioned or referenced state business," he said at an event in Janesville, Wis.

Indiana law requires all records dealing with state business to be retained and available for public information requests.

Emails exchanged on state accounts are captured on state servers, which can be searched in response to such requests. But any emails Pence sent from his AOL account to another private account likely would have been hidden from public record searches unless he took steps to make them available.

Lotter said any emails Pence sent to or from a state government account have always been available for public record searches. But he said he couldn't say whether exchanges about state matters between Pence's AOL account and other private accounts were made available for review in response to public record searches throughout his term as governor.

Pence's office said Thursday that his campaign hired the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to review his emails during his time as governor to ensure compliance with Indiana law. That review began as he was leaving the governor's office and is ongoing, his office said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 6, 2017 10:51 AM
Posted to Indiana Government