Vice President-elect Mike Pence has found himself caught in the middle of a legal battle in which he is being accused of keeping the contents of his email from public scrutiny.
Bill Groth, a Democratic lawyer, filed a public records lawsuit last year in an attempt to uncover the contents of an email attachment that was sent to Pence’s office in 2014. However, the court has ruled in favor of the Indiana governor, saying Pence has the power to decide what information should be disclosed to the public, according to CBS News.
Mike Pence has his own email controversy in Indiana https://t.co/23fg4xXxuJ
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 17, 2016
Groth said using the separation of power argument could set a dangerous example as it “would render all of (Pence’s) emails undiscoverable.”
“If the court buys their separation of powers argument, the executive branch will be exempt from (Indiana’s public records law),” Groth told CNN. “Why are they willing to take that risk if they have statutory arguments and they aren’t really seeking to exempt the executive?”
The lawyer insisted that the court should investigate all the information Pence received and sent through government emails.
“I think governmental transparency is an important concern of anyone who lives in a democracy— the governor cannot put himself above the law,” Groth said in an interview with the IndyStar.
According to reports, the email in question contains Pence’s decision to join the other 16 states in stopping President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration.
The group of 17 states perceived President Obama’s action as an overreach of executive power. In an attempt to stop the administration’s immigration relief plans, Pence hired a private law firm instead of letting the Indiana Attorney General’s Office handle the legal matters. Groth claimed Pence funded the litigation using public funds, so he filed a public record request seeking information about the planned litigation process.
Groth was able to obtain the documents he needed. However, Pence’s office did not release the PDF attachment called “white paper,” which was sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s chief of staff. The attachment allegedly contains the legal approach they would use against President Obama’s immigration actions.
Citing Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, Groth said it was ironic that the camp that criticized Clinton’s use of a private email in her business transactions as Secretary of State, which landed the former first lady in hot water, is now facing an email scandal of its own. However, Pence’s spokesman, Matt Lloyd explained to The Washington Post that the Indiana governor’s current email case is entirely different from that of Clinton’s.
“They aren’t even in the same universe,” Lloyd told the newspaper. “One broke the law, and the other did not.”
Last summer, Clinton became the subject of an FBI investigation after it was found out that she used a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. The FBI deemed her use of a private email server as a careless decision but did not find anything indictable.
— TorontoStar (@TorontoStar) November 13, 2016
CNN reported that Pence’s legal representatives insisted that the contents of the attachment are confidential under attorney-client privilege. Groth fought to get hold of the email attachment but the court “reviewed the white paper and determined the state was correct in protecting it as attorney-client privilege,” Pence’s spokesperson said in a statement.
Indiana’s public access counselor, who handles issues over government transparency and access to public records, has also sided with the Vice President-elect.
However, Groth appealed the court decision, saying the documents should not be shielded under attorney-client privilege as more than 30 state officials had already received the email. The Indiana Court of Appeals will hear the oral arguments in Indianapolis next week.
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