As the media launches a full-fanged attack on president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet member choices, rightfully so, another email drama is unfolding with his VP pick in the center of the controversy. Mike Pence, according to the Indy Star, is attempting to hide the contents of emails sent and received when he was governor of Indiana.
At issue is Pence’s email communications with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott in a lawsuit against the federal government over President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) to, among other things, defer deportation of parents of children born in the U.S. and those who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16. Having failed in Congress to pass an immigration bill commonly known as The Dream Act, the president then took matters into his own hands and pushed DAPA through executive order in November of 2014.
Abbott contacted Pence and encouraged him to file a lawsuit against the federal government. According to The Star, “Pence, joined in on a lawsuit led by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot in State of Texas, et al v. United States, with the blessing of the Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.” It was at that time, an Indianapolis attorney, named William Groth, began asking questions.
“Pence hired Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg to join the Texas litigation,” The Star wrote, a move which troubled Groth as he alleged the Republican governor was misusing taxpayer funds to bring about the lawsuit against the progressive politics of the sitting U.S. president. Groth reportedly said of Pence’s decision to join the largely Republican governors’ lawsuit against the U.S., “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.”
Now, Pence’s administration is fighting to keep the contents of an email secret which he sent out to supporters, during the time the lawsuit was filed. According to The Star, “The administration is fighting to conceal the contents of an email sent to Gov. Mike Pence by a political ally. That email is being sought by a prominent Democratic labor lawyer (Groth) who says he wants to expose waste in the Republican administration.”
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After Groth filed a FOIA request with the Pence administration he was provided a “57-page response also included an email that Daniel Hodge, Abbott's chief of staff, sent to 30 recipients in various states asking them to join the lawsuit against Obama. The message included an attached white paper, but the governor failed to produce the document, according to court records.” That “white paper” is now the target of Groth’s inquiry, and a source of contention for the Pence administration.
The Pence team doesn’t feel they must reveal its contents and they now have a favorable ruling by the Indiana Superior Court. The Star writes, “After a yearlong trial, the Superior Court held that the issue was not a matter for the courts to decide, citing an Indiana Supreme Court case decided just days before. In a 4-1 ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Citizens Action Coalition, et al. v. Indiana House Rep., that under the Indiana Constitution’s separation of powers clause, the legislature's redactions were nonjusticiable; a legal term that means 'not for the court to decide.' In other words, the court upheld the Pence administration's request not to force the former governor to reveal the contents of said document.
Groth isn’t backing down. “Groth appealed in June and the Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. at the Statehouse, where each side will be allowed 20 minutes for arguments,” writes The Star, who says Groth is pushing for greater transparency within the executive branch of the Indiana State government.
If this case sounds eerily familiar to Hillary Clinton’s woes while she was the secretary of state, that’s because opponents like Groth are, in essence, using the same argument used to subpoena her email correspondence on a private email server. If the secretary of state’s emails are a matter of public record, then so are the communications of a state governor engaged in drawing support for a lawsuit against the federal government.
The Republicans cannot have their cake and eat it too. They simply cannot demand full access to emails of a member of the opposing party, the Democrats, and expect the Democrats not to insist on the same levels of transparency. In order for the Republicans to take the high road, Pence should release his “white paper” contents, and take whatever’s coming to him in the way of public scrutiny.