Vice President Pence used a private AOL account to conduct official business in his former position as the governor of Indiana, according to public records. And at one point, the account was hacked and used to send fraudulent emails seeking money from his contacts.
Pence used the account to communicate with advisers about issues including homeland security in Indiana and the security of the gates at the governor’s mansion, The Indianapolis Star reports.
The newspaper says it obtained 29 pages of email records from current Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office in response to a public records request.
Under Indiana law, public officials are allowed to use personal email accounts — and the practice can help them avoid using official accounts to conduct political business. As the Star notes, the law is “generally interpreted” to require public officials to save any emails related to official business in order to follow open records laws. A Pence spokesman says the vice president complied with that requirement.
Pence’s AOL account was compromised by a standard phishing attack in late spring of 2016, a Trump administration official tells NPR’s Tamara Keith. The breach became public knowledge when everyone in his contacts list received emails claiming that the governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money.
Private email accounts are usually less secure than government accounts and are not preserved for use in public records in the same way. When Pence’s account was compromised, he shut it down and switched to a more secure system — and then to another when he took on a national role, administration officials tell NPR.
Responding to reports about the personal email account, the vice president’s press secretary, Marc Lotter, issued a statement saying that just as other governors had done, Pence “maintained a state email account and a personal email account.”
Addressing the question of where those emails are now, Lotter says that as he prepared to work in Washington, Pence “directed outside counsel to review all of his communications to ensure that state-related emails are being transferred and properly archived by the state.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, both Pence and then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for using a private server and private email for State Department business. Appearing on Meet the Press in September, Pence said Clinton was keeping her communications “out of the public reach, out of public accountability.”
During the vice presidential debate in October, Pence alluded to the security concerns of using unofficial email systems, claiming that Clinton’s email server “was subject to being hacked by foreign governments.”
Pence’s own email had been hacked earlier that year.
Pence spokesman Lotter told the Star that comparing the former governor’s email use to Clinton’s is “absurd,” because Pence did not handle classified information on the federal level as governor. He also said that Pence was using a publicly available email service and did not have a home private server as Clinton did.
Some of Pence’s emails were deemed too sensitive to be released as part of the Star’s public records request. Security experts told the paper that hackers were likely able to access Pence’s inbox and sent emails, which could have included those same sensitive documents.
Lotter told the AP that the law firm Barnes & Thornburg is currently reviewing Pence’s communications as governor and that contact between Pence and his aides who were using government email accounts would be automatically archived.
NPR’s Tamara Keith contributed to this report.