Indiana faces records request backlog as Pence drags feet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana governor’s office faces a backlog of public records requests largely stemming from Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure, and the delay has been exacerbated by Pence’s refusal to give his successor digital access to his emails, including those sent from a private AOL account he sometimes used to conduct state business.
More than 50 records requests are pending before the office of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who was Pence’s hand-picked replacement on the ballot after Trump selected him to be the GOP vice presidential nominee last July.
The vast majority of the requests seek correspondence Pence had with staffers and political groups, including emails routed through his private AOL.com email account, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
The pending requests are from private citizens, law firms, political parties and news organizations, including the AP.
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 delaying their release — if not denying them outright.
Thirteen boxes of paper copies of Pence’s emails were delivered to the Indiana governor’s office in March, after his use of a private AOL email account was first revealed. But public records experts say the vice president’s reluctance since then to provide digital access to his correspondence appears to be a deliberate stalling tactic.
Indiana University journalism professor Gerry Lanosga, a former investigative reporter, said that state law requires Pence to provide digital records, like emails, in their original form.
“The fact that they were providing boxes of paper printouts of digital records is disappointing and clearly is meant to make it difficult to review and release the records,” Lanosga said.
Pence spokesman Marc Lotter declined to answer detailed questions from AP, and instead emailed a one sentence statement.
“Documents relating to Governor Pence’s official service to Indiana are being preserved by the state in full compliance with the law,” Lotter wrote.
Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said the governor’s office requested digital access to emails. But Pence has yet to follow through on a commitment to do so. Digital access would make the process of combing through the documents considerably easier for Holcomb’s four-person legal team, which is also tasked with handling the administration’s day-to-day legal needs.
Daniel Byron, a media law and First Amendment attorney, said the delay by Pence is hypocritical given he repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for refusing to release emails from her time as secretary of state.
“He was after Hillary about emails and access,” said Byron, a partner with the Indianapolis-based firm Bingham, Greenebaum, Doll. “Do people let him get away with that?”
Earlier this year, lawyers for Pence argued unsuccessfully in a civil case that Indiana courts had no authority to force him to comply with public records law.
Pence’s AOL account was subjected to a phishing scheme last spring, before Trump chose him to join the GOP presidential ticket. 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 has since stopped using the new personal account since he was sworn-in as vice president, Lotter previously said.