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Newly released emails show how Gov. Mike Pence used private AOL account

Posted at 12:51 PM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 21:47:01-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- Fifteen emails released from former Gov. Mike Pence's AOL account this week provide a glimpse into how he used the private email during his time as governor.

The emails, which cover a period from roughly June 2014 through March 2016, were released initially following a public records request by Indianapolis Star reporter Tony Cook.

RTV6 obtained the emails Friday from the office of the press secretary for Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The contents of the messages range from forwarding of news clips from the governor's staff to more official communications – such as emails between Pence and John Hill, who was at the time the governor's deputy chief of staff of public safety and previously worked as the executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

In one such email, dated October 31, 2014, Hill outlines the state's winter weather preparedness plan. In another October 2014 email, Hill alerts Pence that he has asked state law enforcement agencies to be vigilant following a shooting at the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.

While Hill was still at the Department of Homeland Security, email records show Pence asked him personally for an update on the status of an investigation into vandalism at churches in his hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

"John, I would like an update on the status of the investigation in Columbus following the vandalism it [sic] to area churches … including the church I grew up in," Pence wrote.

In an August 27, 2014, email, Pence's press secretary Kara Brooks compliments him on quotes he gave to WTHR reporter Kevin Rader for a story about security gates.

Two months earlier, Pence used his private email account to communicate with Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter about a Tipton County sheriff's deputy, Jacob Calvin, who was killed in a crash in June 2014.

Pence says he spoke to the deputy's father on the phone, and directs Carter to work with his staff to present a "Hoosier public safety award" to him on the governor's behalf.

The bulk of the emails obtained by RTV6, however, deal with the issue of Syrian refugees.

In one, Pence directs two different staff members to retweet a column by then-Sen. Dan Coats about how to "balance legitimate security concerns with our country's legacy of compassion."

In November 2015, Pence's chief of staff, Jim Atterholt, passed along a list of quotes from 25 governors about the Syrian refugee debate from the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee.

The following March, then deputy chief of staff of communications and strategy Matt Lloyd sent Pence statistics about the numbers of refugees, Syrian or otherwise, settled in Indiana

Pence replied, "Excellent. Used it."

MORE | How did Pence get here? From Syrian refugee bans to denouncing of Muslim restrictions | Court of Appeals rules against Pence blocking funding to help Syrian refugees resettle in Indiana | Indiana students beg Pence to let in refugees: 'One man can change the world. You can be that man.'

While the majority of the emails represent fairly mundane communication between Pence and his staffers, at least one email not included in the batch obtained by RTV6 – but confirmed by Marc Lotter, who is now press secretary for Vice President Pence – suggests that Pence's private AOL account may have been compromised.

The email, which originated from Pence's AOL account, claims that the governor and his wife, Karen, are stranded in the Philippines and asks for the recipients to send him money.

Lotter said the email is not evidence that Pence's email was hacked.

"It was not hacked," he said. "It was a phishing email that was sent that he was stranded in the Philippines."

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody blasted Pence in a statement Thursday night – trying to tie Pence's private email account to a controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server that dogged her presidential campaign:

“Pot meet kettle. Vice President Mike Pence demonstrated the same ‘fast and loose ethics’ he railed against on the campaign trail last year. He conducted state business on personal, unsecured email and took calculated steps to conceal and delay information. Pence’s actions were reckless and unethical. They were the calculation of a politician on the rise and a thoughtless display of the politics as usual Hoosiers are sick and tired of in today’s climate. Vice President Pence may hold himself to a double standard, but Hoosiers deserve better. Americans deserve better."

MORE | Hillary Clinton email: 'Are you still in basketball-crazed Indianoplace?' | U.S. Justice Department looking into FBI's handling of Clinton email investigation before election

The two issues are not a perfect comparison. Clinton maintained a private email server in her own home through which she communicated at least 110 emails that were classified at the time they were sent. According to the FBI, at least eight of those emails chains contained top secret information.

POLITIFACT | FBI findings tear holes in Hillary Clinton's email defense

While Pence was highly critical of Clinton's use of a private email during the campaign, his own email practices complied with Indiana state law, according to Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.

Lotter released an official statement from the Office of the Vice President on Friday about the newly released emails:

"Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As then-Governor Pence concluded his time in office, he directed outside counsel to review all of his communications to ensure that state-related emails are being transferred and properly archived by the state, in accordance with the law, which outside counsel has done and is continuing to do. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state and are being managed according to Indiana's Access to Public Records Act."

A White House spokeswoman said Friday that Pence "did everything to the letter of the law." 

Vice President Pence himself addressed the issue directly Friday afternoon following a speaking engagement.

"There's no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton's practice -- having a private server, misusing classified information, destroying emails when they were requested by the congress," Pence told reporters. "We have 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."

You can read the contents of all 15 emails received by RTV6 below: