VP Elect Mike Pence Goes To Court To Keep His Emails Secret

from the hypocrisy-again dept

After making it a key plank of the Trump/Pence campaign that the public needed to see what was in Hillary Clinton’s emails, it does seem somewhat ironic that VP Elect Mike Pence is now headed to court to protect what’s in some of his emails as governor of Indiana.

The administration is fighting to conceal the contents of an email sent to Gov. Mike Pence by a political ally. That email is being sought by a prominent Democratic labor lawyer who says he wants to expose waste in the Republican administration.

The circumstances are different, but the general principle is the same — and there’s a really important issue at stake when it comes to FOIA and public records issues. The background is fairly convoluted, but here’s a quick summary. After President Obama announced a plan to defer enforcement of certain immigration laws for certain individuals, a few states were upset about it, and Texas and Indiana (where Pence is governor) sued the President. Pence hired an outside law firm to handle the case, and a local lawyer thought this was a waste of taxpayer funds. The lawyer filed public records requests to get access to emails about the decision to hire the law firm and to find out the costs to taxpayers.

Pence’s office released some emails, but they were apparently redacted in places — and in one case an email referred to an attached white paper that was not included. The lawyer who filed the request, William Groth, went to court to demand that the Pence administration reveal the full email with the attached white paper. The Pence administration has argued that it’s not subject to public records requests as “attorney-client” work material — but also that the courts are not allowed to question what the government chooses to release or redact under public records laws. A lower court agreed — following an Indiana Supreme Court ruling saying that the courts cannot “meddle” in public records decisions by the legislative or executive branch due to “separation of powers.” That’s a bizarre reading of the law that seems to actually turn the concept of separation of powers on its head, as it kind of destroys a key part of that separation: the checks and balances of the three branches of government.

Either way, Groth has appealed, and that means that Pence is effectively going to court to argue that his emails as governor need not be revealed. Now, you can (and I’m sure some folks will…) argue that this is entirely different than the Clinton situation. But… it really isn’t. The key issue in talking about the “33,000” emails that Clinton supposedly deleted was the fact that her legal team basically made the decision by themselves what documents were related to her government work and should be turned over, and which were personal, and thus deleted. If Pence is arguing that his office alone should get to determine which emails can be revealed and which cannot, it seems fairly hypocritical of him to also have argued that Clinton and her team shouldn’t have been able to make the same decision.

But, of course, this is politics and the only real form of consistency is you argue for what benefits you and your team, no matter how contradictory it may be compared to when you’re in similar situations.

But getting beyond the hypocritical symmetry here, this is an incredibly important issue. For many, many years, we’ve reported on how various governments — federal, state, local — seem to go out of their way to avoid truly complying with various FOIA and public records regulations. Indiana’s ruling that such decisions cannot be challenged in court is ridiculous and basically takes away all of the power behind the state’s public records law. Government officials can just refuse to release or redact whatever they want and get away with it. That’s not any way to create government transparency. It’s a way to hide corruption and sketchy behavior.

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Comments on “VP Elect Mike Pence Goes To Court To Keep His Emails Secret”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Totally different

Also, the Pence legal team acknowledges that these are government documents and argues that they are exempt because reasons. The reasons may be legally baseless; the court can and should evaluate the merits of those reasons. Even if Pence prevails on the merits, that means only that the law, as interpreted by the court, permits the messages to be kept secret. It does not mean that the law is well written and that enabling such secrecy serves a compelling public interest. We might get a ruling where the court declares the messages exempt, but with a non-binding suggestion to the legislature that the public would be better served if the law was amended to forbid such secrecy.

The Clinton legal team argued that the missing e-mails were personal documents and therefore exempt because only government documents were at issue. Many of the disputed e-mails were destroyed before the dispute was resolved, making it impossible to determine the validity of the claim that the messages were personal in nature.

I.T. Guy says:

“Now, you can (and I’m sure some folks will…) argue that this is entirely different than the Clinton situation. But… it really isn’t.”

Here I am 🙂

Um, its totally different than the TheHills server. For one the emails requested still exist and were not deleted to obscure them. Two, they weren’t on a home grown basement server.

This is the EXACT reason why Hills had her own server. She knows it… I know it… and you should too.

Oninoshiko (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s one other reason it’s different… the first argument mentioned in the article.

Attorney-client privilege is a legit reason to argue they are exempt. The second argument is… creative (which is my polite way to say it should be rejected, and those who support it should receive a stern talking-to).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I get where you’re coming from, but what Mike’s saying is that Clinton attempted to obscure public policy communications that should have legitimately been available to FOIA request.
Pence is trying to obscure public policy communications that should have legitimately been available to FOIA request.
Obviously, Clinton’s actions were far more criminal and cynical, but Pence’s actions are, at the end of the day, no more legitimate than hers; especially when his running mate pushed so hard on the "Crooked Hillary" rhetoric, and here’s Pence attempting to refuse access to very similar documents.

Again, I agree that to compare the scale of their actions is laughable, but that doesn’t excuse him in the slightest.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t do the partisan thing. Both sides behave badly. We can argue about the degree if you like but I’m not giving anyone on either side a pass because I agree with them on some issues.

If you’re truly on the side of personal responsibility you shouldn’t object to Pence disclosing how much taxpayer’s money he spent fighting Obama over immigration.

Anonymous Coward says:

Easy answer

Everything Pence and Trump does is for the good of others. They can do no wrong. If they need to hide something it is so that the eeevvviiilll people don’t know their super awesome plans.

Everything Clinton does is meant to kill as many cute puppies as possible (after first converting them to Islam and taking the parents into poverty whom they will then give away millions of dollars and free homes and stuff).

But seriously: I am of the camp that everything done by a public official needs to available (after a specific period of time if classified) for a public records request. Complete, unedited and exactly as sent/received by the original source. The official does not get to decide what to send or hide.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

How To Impeach A President.

Suppose you are back in the Watergate-time, in 1973-74. President Nixon needs to leave office for the common good. However, the Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was chosen to pay debts in the Republican Party, and is not a suitable compromise candidate.

So, it has to be a double impeachment. First you go after Agnew, for misconduct as governor of Maryland, before he became Vice-President. Now you bring in this stable, trustworthy guy, name of Gerald Ford, the (Republican) House Minority Leader, a moderate Republican who is _not_ in the line of succession, and you get the President to nominate him, to keep the office away from someone he dislikes even more, and the Democratic Congress confirms Ford, on a bipartisan basis.

Having done that, you impeach the President, and Gerald Ford becomes the new president, He in turn nominates this other stable trustworthy guy, name of Nelson Rockefeller, the former governor of the state of New York, and sometime unsuccessful presidential candidate.

So, in our own time, substitute Donald Trump for Richard Nixon, Mike Pence for Spiro Agnew, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) for Gerald Ford, and, maybe John McCain for Nelson Rockefeller. The working majority in Congress for the operation will have to consist of both Republicans and Democrats. Shelley Moore Capito’s father was Governor of West Virginia– and went to prison for corruption. I think you can assume that she is a realist in a sense that some other people are not, and will not do crazy things either out of personal ego (Trump), or out of neo-conservative ideology (eg. Paul Ryan).

Anonymous Coward says:

“Government officials can just refuse to release or redact whatever they want and get away with it. That’s not any way to create government transparency. It’s a way to hide corruption and sketchy behavior.”

All you’re really saying here is: “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide.” If some official had said that to you, you would have given them 1,001 reasons that was not the case.

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