Mike Pence Email Hack: How the VP's private email debacle compares to Hillary Clinton's

Mike Pence Email Hack: How the VP's private email debacle compares to Hillary Clinton's
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

On Thursday, the IndyStar revealed that while serving as governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence used a private email address to conduct government business — a move that is now raising concerns about his security and transparency.

Sound familiar?

Pence's email revelation comes after the vice president was harshly critical of Hillary Clinton's decision to use a private email server as secretary of state on the campaign trail, describing the then-candidate as "the most dishonest" presidential candidate "since Richard Nixon."


By using private email addresses, both Pence and Clinton were both complying with the law — though it's a bit of a gray area. 

The IndyStar notes that Indiana law allowed Pence to use a private email address provided that government information is retained for the public record, which Pence is said to have complied with by transferring all government-related emails to the state upon leaving office. 

Clinton, similarly, has said she went "above and beyond" in complying with federal law, which requires employees using private emails to "[preserve the emails] in the appropriate agency record-keeping system." Both, however, only offered up their email records after leaving office, raising concerns about transparency. .

"There is an issue of double standard here," Gerry Lanosga, a professor at Indiana University and past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, told the IndyStar. "[Pence] has been far from forthcoming about his own private email account on which it's clear he has conducted state business. So there is a disconnect there that cannot be avoided."


But how do the two situations differ? Here are a few ways that the similar email scandals aren't exactly the same.

The nature of the information

In response to the IndyStar's reporting, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter called the comparison between the vice president and Clinton "absurd," pointing to the fact that Pence didn't deal with federally-classified information as governor.

And this is true — the nature of the information that Pence likely emailed about as governor isn't the same as the high-stakes federal intel that Clinton was privy to as secretary of state.

Rep. Trey Gowdy and members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speak to reporters about Clinton's personal emails in 2015.
Source: Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

The Indiana governor, however, still did his fair share of emailing important information. The IndyStar report notes that Pence did discuss "sensitive matters and homeland security issues" on his private email, including receiving an update from the FBI on a federal terror-related charge. 

The IndyStar also noted that while the Indiana government released 29 pages of the former governor's AOL emails to the newspaper, there were some emails that could not be released because they were considered to be "confidential and too sensitive to release to the public."

"The fact that these emails are stored in a private AOL account is crazy to me," Justin Cappos, a computer science professor at New York University, told the paper. "This account was used to handle these messages that are so sensitive they can't be turned over in a records request."

Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the IndyStar that many criticisms about Clinton's emails would be "misplaced" if applied to Pence. However, Segal noted, though "[the] secretary of state would be in possession of secrets that had more of a national impact, ... at a lower level, a private email account has the same implications."

The type of private email server

While Clinton's emails came out of a private server located in her New York home, Pence opted instead to use a commercial AOL account.

Hillary and Bill Clinton greet supporters on Election Day near their home in Chappaqua, New York.
Source: Seth Wenig/AP

Lotter pointed to this difference as another key reason why the two email situations couldn't be compared. But is that really the case?

Cybersecurity experts cited by the IndyStar say both email servers were "probably about equally vulnerable to attacks." Pence's AOL server was not as secure as a government email address, the experts noted, which would have additional layers of security.

Pence actually got hacked

Unlike Clinton, whose email account was never proven to be officially hacked, we know Pence's email was compromised.

In the summer of 2016, Pence's account was hacked by a scammer, who sent an email to Pence's contacts saying the then-governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money. 


Cappos said it's "particularly concerning" that the hacker, who likely gained full access to Pence's contacts and inbox, was able to get into the account without doing a "very particular, very specific attack."

In response to the hacking, the IndyStar notes, Pence set up a new AOL account.

Because of the hacking, Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at computer security company WatchGuard Technologies, said to the IndyStar, "[it] would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private email server."