Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Pence’s email controversy is everything his critics could’ve hoped for

Updated
Hillary Clinton was clearly asking for trouble. She used a private email account to conduct official government business; she handled sensitive information over unsecured servers; and her system even became compromised during her time in office. No wonder Republicans were so hysterical about her reckless and negligent behavior.

Wait, did I say Hillary Clinton? I meant Vice President Mike Pence. The Indianapolis Star published a striking scoop last night:
Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues.

Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.

Cybersecurity experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence’s are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer.

Furthermore, advocates for open government expressed concerns about transparency because personal emails aren’t immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.
No one is denying the accuracy of the materials; they came from the state of Indiana itself. What’s more, an unspecified number of Pence’s emails were not released as part of the public-records request because, as the Star reported, “the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public.”

So, where’s the hair-on-fire apoplexy?

I should acknowledge that I don’t much care about Pence’s use of a private email account. If we’re ranking political controversies on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing “removal from office and criminal prosecution,” I’d give this story a 3, maybe a 4, on the merits.

But I’d give Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal” roughly the same number. Email server protocols, which Americans were told to consider the nation’s most important issue in 2016, have always struck me as a trivial political sideshow.

Some sense of fairness, however, is important. If Republicans, pundits, editors, and the political world in general considered Clinton’s emails a 9 on the scandal-o-meter, it’s absurd to think the revelations surrounding Pence’s emails deserve to be overlooked as unimportant.

Indeed, Pence’s story is, to a very real extent, worse. It’s not just the hypocrisy – the Indiana Republican repeatedly attacked Clinton over emails during his bid for national office – it’s also the fact that Clinton’s system was never compromised, while Pence’s was.

The Star’s report added that Pence’s account “was actually compromised last summer by a scammer who sent an email to his contacts claiming Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and in urgent need of money.” (Pence apologized to his contacts … and created a new AOL account.)

There’s simply no reason there should be one standard for Democrats and another for Republicans. Pence handled sensitive information on a private, unsecured email account, a detail he never disclosed to voters. Will the political world now begin a debate about a special prosecutor? How about congressional hearings? Will there be an investigation? Will there be hundreds of editorials and thousands of hours of on-air chatter?

Will Paul Ryan recommend stripping Pence of his security clearance? Will assorted partisans start chanting, “Lock him up” as a Pavlovian response to the vice president’s name?

Again, removed from all context, I’d see these revelations as a blip on the radar. But the Clinton email story, which likely helped change the direction of world events in the 21st century, was effectively a pile of garbage from the start.

If the Secretary of State’s emails were considered vitally important, there’s no excuse for holding the Vice President to a vastly more forgiving standard.

Hillary Clinton, Indiana, Mike Pence and Technology

Pence's email controversy is everything his critics could've hoped for

Updated