US Vice President Pence left dozens of records requests unfilled


May 27, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — Vice President Mike Pence left two-dozen records requests unfilled — most of them for his emails — when he left office as Indiana governor.

May 27, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — Vice President Mike Pence left two-dozen records requests unfilled — most of them for his emails — when he left office as Indiana governor.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks to members of the media while meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. – Andrew Harnik/AP

In all, there are more than 50 pending requests with the governor's office. Nearly half of those date to Pence's time in office. Some are more than 10 months old.

The requests represent an unprecedented backlog, fueled in large part by increased interest in Pence after he became President Trump's running mate last year.

But there is also another reason for the holdup: Pence still hasn't provided all of his emails from private accounts that he used to conduct state business.

Moreover, those Pence has provided to the state were in paper form, making them difficult to search in response to public records requests.

"We don’t have all the responsive records," said Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb, who succeeded Pence in January. "We’ve requested all state-related records digitally and they’ve indicated they would do that."

Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Pence, released a brief statement Friday: "Documents relating to Governor Pence's official service to Indiana are being preserved by the state in full compliance with the law."

Holcomb's office released the outstanding record requests Friday morning in response to inquiries from The Indianapolis Star and other media outlets.

The requests seek emails on a variety of topics, including Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the HIV outbreak in Scott County and lead contamination in East Chicago.

Pence's emails became a subject of controversy when the Star disclosed in March that he had used a personal AOL account to conduct state business, sometimes discussing sensitive security issues. The issue drew comparisons with Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account and server while secretary of State.

Pence's office dismissed any comparison as "absurd."

Cyber-security experts said Pence's use of a personal account raised concerns about whether sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence's are typically less secure than government email accounts.

In fact, Pence's personal account was actually hacked last summer.

The personal account also garnered criticism from advocates for open government because personal emails aren't immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.

Attorneys for Pence turned over 13 boxes of emails to the state on the same day the Star’s story broke.

His spokesman, Marc Lotter, said at the time additional emails from Pence's AOL account would also be provided to the state pending a legal review by Pence's attorneys, but so far none have been.

The review is being handled by Barnes and Thornburg, an Indianapolis law firm led by one of Trump's top campaign fundraisers, Bob Grand.

Grand did not immediately return a message from the Star on Friday.

Indiana law requires public agencies to fulfill or reject record requests within a "reasonable time," but that phrase is not defined.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said Friday a number of factors, including the size of the request and the staffing level of the agency, determine what constitutes a reasonable time.

Gerry Lanosga, an Indiana University professor and past president of Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said the delays in releasing Pence's emails are troubling.

"That’s a big-time lag and that’s not a reasonable time for records request to be fulfilled," he said. “I think it’s pretty clear that there is some foot-dragging going on here."

Courtesy: USA Today