from the hypocrisy-again dept
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.