Thursday evening, the Indianapolis Star reported that Vice President Mike Pence used a personal AOL email account for state business as governor of Indiana. The Star also reported that Pence’s email was hacked. Naturally, Democrats have seized on the issue, attacking Pence for an alleged “double standard” in attacking Hillary Clinton for her private email server.
“There is an issue of double standard here,” Gerry Lanosga, a professor at Indiana University, told the Star. Indeed, there are some similarities between Pence’s use of a personal email and Clinton’s use of a private server. Pence discussed homeland security issues and sensitive matters with top advisers using his AOL account. Among other things, he discussed Indiana’s response to terror attacks and security at the governor’s mansion.
Pence’s account was hacked last summer, before the governor became Trump’s running mate. His AOL account was subjected to a phishing scheme, when Pence’s contacts were sent an email falsely claiming that the governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money. Marc Lotter, a Pence spokesman, said the governor switched to a different AOL account with added security measures, and that he has stopped using the account since becoming vice president.
Despite the similarities between Pence’s email scandal and that which plagued Hillary Clinton, Lotter called any comparisons between the cases “absurd,” noting a key few key differences.
1. Pence didn’t deal with classified information.
While governors do deal with important and sensitive issues, there is a key difference between a governor and a secretary of State. As secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sent classified information on her private email server — reportedly even encouraging staffers to take information classified at the highest levels and remove the markings to send them to her email.
The fact that Pence sent emails regarding the arrest of refugees charged with helping the Islamic State (ISIS) and regarding security measures at the governor’s mansion, using a personal server, is a serious problem. But it is an entirely different matter from compromising information so classified that people with “Top Secret” clearance are not allowed to see it — special access programs (SAP) documents, stored separately at a Special Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF).
Yeah lets pretend we can't understand the difference between classified and unclassified systems so we can fake outrage on #PenceEmails
— Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) March 3, 2017
It is for this reason that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn called for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential race last February, long before he was officially connected to the Trump campaign.
2. Pence’s email scandal is not illegal.
As the Indianapolis Star reported, Pence’s office in Washington released a statement explaining that “as Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”
Indiana law does not prohibit public officials from using personal email accounts, the Star reported, but the law is generally interpreted to mean that official business conducted on private email must be retained for public record purposes.
Pence’s office said his campaign hired outside counsel as he was departing as governor, to review his AOL emails and transfer any involving public business to the state.
Hillary Clinton, however, deleted nearly 1,000 work-related emails to David Patraeus, the FBI reported last September. Along with jeopardizing classified information, and potentially perjuring herself in testimonies about the email scandal, these actions are rather different from Pence’s handling of the situation.
3. Consumer email versus private email.
Pence’s use of an AOL email as governor of Indiana is still more different from Clinton’s use of a private email server, in that Pence merely kept an old, well-known consumer email provider, while Clinton purposefully had a private server installed in her home, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter pointed out to the Star.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is an important difference. Clinton, as secretary of State, knew that her emails were important and needed to be kept secure, but rather than using a government email address, she had a private system set up.
Pence, on the other hand, merely kept using an email he had in the past, provided by a separate company relied upon by millions. (AOL emails may be considered cringeworthy by many, but in an article for Politico, Ben Smith explained that these accounts are also a status symbol, held by personalities like Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington, David Axelrod, and Arthur Brooks.)
Pence’s actions, unlike Clinton’s, do not suggest a deliberate intent to circumvent the public eye. There have been no allegations of “pay-to-play” with foreign governments under Pence’s administration, as there have been with Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State.
Did he send & receive classified info?
Did he lie about it?
Did he coordinate pay-to-play schemes?
Then it's not the same thing#PenceEmails
— Liz Wheeler (@Liz_Wheeler) March 3, 2017
None of this absolves Pence for putting sensitive information at risk. This is still a scandal — but it is nowhere near the level of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. Pence’s actions did not compromise classified information, they did not break the law, and they do not illustrate likely intent to deceive the public.
Defenders are spinning #PenceEmails, but they're obscuring this:
PENCE USED HIS AOL ACCOUNT FOR SENSITIVE SECURITY MATTERS AND WAS HACKED.
— Peter Daou (@peterdaou) March 3, 2017
The vice president is still perfectly capable of attacking Clinton as corrupt without being guilty of applying a “double standard.” Indeed, the only people guilty of a double standard here are those saying Pence is equally guilty as Clinton.