When he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Pence used a private email account for official business. That private email account, which contains information too sensitive to be released to the public, was hacked last year.
Those revelations come to us from the Indianapolis Star, which filed public records requests while Pence was governor and just now received 29 pages of emails from Pence’s AOL account.
The news is reminiscent, of course, of the private email server Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of state. Pence was among many, many Republicans extremely critical of Clinton for using private email to do official work.
And while there are some similarities between Pence and Clinton, based on what we know at this moment, it’s not accurate to say they’re the exact same. Below, I break down four similarities between Pence’s and Clinton’s private email accounts — and a whole bunch of differences:
Similarity No. 1: They both used private email accounts for work
But: It’s legal in Indiana to use a private email account for work. In fact, you could argue Pence may have needed a private account: It’s illegal in Indiana for a government official to use her or his official account for political business.
In the State Department, it’s not straight-up illegal to use a private account, but government employees are urged to use their work-related accounts for both security and transparency sake. (The regulations were shifting while Clinton was secretary of state, but the general gist is that official emails were supposed to be archived or easily accessible.)
Similarity No. 2: Both politicians point to the fact that their predecessors used private emails for work
But: Clinton exclusively used her private email account for work, something no secretary of state had done before. There’s no evidence Pence exclusively used his private email account for work, nor that his use of it was any more or less than past governors of Indiana.
Also: Pence — and on much of this we have to take him at his word — says he’s preserving the emails “consistent with Indiana law.” (We’ll note that he is in the midst of a nearly two-year battle to keep an email private relating to his decision to hire a private law firm to join a lawsuit against then-President Barack Obama’s immigration directives.)
When Clinton was asked to hand over her private emails to the State Department, she didn’t hand over all of them. She withheld some 50 percent because, she said, they were personal in nature. But an FBI investigation found “several thousand work-related emails” were not among the batch she handed over to the State Department.
Similarity No. 3: Both their accounts were vulnerable to hacking
But: The FBI says it’s possible — but not proven — Clinton’s emails were hacked, especially when she used her account “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”
Pence’s account was actually hacked. In early 2016, hackers sent out a phishing email to his contacts claiming he and his wife were stranded in the Philippines, were attacked and robbed on their way back to their hotel and desperately needed money. Security experts told the Indianapolis Star it did not seem to be a hack specifically targeted at Pence, but they added that does not make a hack of a top government official’s email account any less “concerning.”
Pence’s office says after the hack, they closed the email account and opened a second, separate AOL account.
Similarity No. 4: Both their accounts appeared to have some degree of sensitive information
But: Pence’s office says he did not communicate about classified information. (Again, we have to take him at his word.) One highlighted by the Indianapolis Star is of Pence communicating with two of his top aides about a terrorism-related FBI arrest in the state, an arrest that was already public.
We do know that some of the emails handed over to the Indianapolis Star were blocked out for confidentiality, and Gov. Eric Holcomb declined to release others because, according to the Indianapolis Star, “the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public.”
That’s troubling to Justin Cappos, a computer security professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, who told the Indy Star: “This account was used to handle these messages that are so sensitive they can’t be turned over in a records request.”
Clinton, meanwhile, said she did not knowingly send or receive “classified material” on her server. But the FBI found more than 100 messages across dozens of chains containing classified information when they were sent or received. (Here’s a primer on how the government classifies information.)
FBI Director James B. Comey said Clinton was “extremely careless” in how she treated classified information. And The Washington Post’s nonpartisan fact-checking team gave her Four Pinocchios — their symbol for a “whopper” — for her original claim she sent or received none.
Also: The FBI felt there was enough in Clinton’s email account to launch a criminal investigation into her treatment of classified information. (Of course, the result of that investigation was that they decided not to prosecute her for any kind of crime.)
There is absolutely no investigation related to Pence, which brings us back to the original reason these two situations are fundamentally different: Using a private account if you’re the governor of Indiana, where it’s legal to do so and you’re ostensibly dealing with much less-sensitive information, is much different than using a private email account exclusively to do work as secretary of state,who has access to many if not most of the nation’s top secrets.