Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s emails could be slowly boiling into the first scandal of the Donald Trump presidency.
Critics are claiming that Mike is refusing to release details about Pence’s decision to join Texas and 26 other states in a lawsuit against outgoing President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration reform in November, 2014 — which attempted to shield children of illegal immigrants and their parents. The emails in question were released, but heavily redacted. At least one attachment, sent to the governor by a political ally, was not included at all, reported Indy Star.
Indianapolis attorney William Groth, who is leading the effort to expose the contents of the Mike Pence emails in an appellate court, says that any decision to preserve the privacy of the information is a dangerous precedent.
“I think governmental transparency is an important concern of anyone who lives in a democracy – the governor cannot put himself above the law… I think joining the lawsuit without the attorney general and hiring that firm was a waste of taxpayer dollars and the people have the right to know how much of their money was spent.”
The case hinges on whether or not a sheet of “white paper” — a term used to describe authoritative explanatory reports on a complex issue — sent to Mike comes under the jurisdiction of public record. Pence and his team claim that it does not, as it was a privately written email intended to be seen for the use of legal counsel.
In April, the Marion Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit, a favorable action for Pence, saying that such instances of public record were not up to the court. At the time, the Indiana governor’s legal defense, Barnes & Thornburg, justified their position on the emails in a filing shared by Indiana Business Journal.
“Just as the judiciary should not ‘intermeddle’ with the legislature’s determination of what constitutes its own work product, the judiciary should also not ‘intermeddle’ with the executive’s determination of what constitutes its own work product, deliberative material, or privileged material.”
— CNN (@CNN) November 14, 2016
The decision has been received poorly by many Indiana legal experts, including the state’s public access counselor, Luke Britt, who was appointed by Mike in 2013. He fears that the Pence emails have set off a chain reaction of officials claiming legal protection against a wide net of public records requests.
“After [an earlier case which set the precedent], a lot of local government officials were trying to claim a similar privilege — that was one of my fears… this will be interesting in part because it is hard to draw clean lines between what would be and what wouldn’t be if excluded from a public records request if the court is going to exempt the executive branch from public records review.”
Gerry Lanosga, an Indiana University media professor specializing in public records law, also expressed concerns about the case to IndyStar. Beyond what will happen with Mike and his emails related to the immigration reform lawsuit, he believes it could easily open up an opportunity for Pence’s successor to skirt public record laws.
“It comes down to this — the court is giving up its ability to check another branch of government, and that should worry people… It shows no accountability… that an agency can say things are exempt just because and citizens have no recourse.”
The Mike Pence emails are likely to face heavy scrutiny from Democrats as many in the party, including Hillary Clinton herself, have blamed her loss on the focus on her own digital communications. Just a week before the election, he told MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews that he believed that fully exposed “facts would be able to save the republic,” quoting Abraham Lincoln.
— Sophia Evans (@Sophia4Trump) November 1, 2016
Do you think the Mike Pence emails are the early signs of a scandal for the incoming vice president?
[Featured Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]