While Rick Perry has joined Republicans casting stones at Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while she was secretary of state, it seems the former governor is not without sin.
Perry was among the first potential 2016 presidential candidates to chime in on revelations that Clinton conducted government business entirely on a personal email account. On Tuesday morning, Perry said the findings add to a “pattern ... of non-transparency” surrounding Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2016.
“It’s an ethical issue that’s going to have to be addressed,” Perry said during an interview on Fox News, tying the issue to other revelations about the Clinton Foundation taking money from foreign countries while she was the United States’ top diplomat.
However, Perry is no stranger to using a personal email account to discuss state business, according to two lawmakers familiar with email exchanges involving the governor that surfaced two years ago. The extent to which Perry used his personal account over the years is unclear, but legislators and open-government advocates said it seriously undercuts his criticism of Clinton.
“In reviewing non-confidential documents related to the UT Board of Regents investigation and reviewing public testimony by Regent [Brenda] Pejovich of the UT Board of Regents, it’s clear to me based on that review that then-Gov. Perry was using a private email account to communicate with members of the Board of Regents,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who sits on a special House panel on transparency in state government.
“I just think sometimes it’s wise for Gov. Perry to sort of look in the mirror before he looks at his talking points,” Martinez Fischer added.
Martinez Fischer’s account was confirmed by former state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who said Wednesday the situation raised a “red flag.”
“It did set off an alarm for me that Gov. Perry would be doing state business on personal email,” said Gonzalez, an El Paso Democrat who also sat on the committee.
Martinez Fischer and Gonzalez both sat on the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations as it looked into turmoil on the University of Texas System Board of Regents. At a meeting of the panel in 2013, Martinez Fischer brought up the emails in question, some of which were then obtained by The Texas Tribune. The emails, in which Perry is identified as only "RP," show him corresponding with a number of UT regents as well as Jeff Sandefer, a prominent Republican donor and informal adviser to Perry.
Without addressing the claims by Martinez Fischer and Gonzalez, Perry’s team on Wednesday defended his use of email while governor.
“The Governor’s Office complied with state law regarding email correspondence,” Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. “While serving as governor of Texas, Gov. Perry’s emails were requested and released through public information requests.”
Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Perry may not have broken the law, but did not act in the full interest of transparency. Using a personal email address makes it harder to track down messages related to state government, she said.
“Good governance dictates that public officials be transparent and make their records easily available to the public,” Shannon said. “It’s just a matter of good government."
Perry’s case illustrates the political challenge some Republicans face as they seek to capitalize on the controversy surrounding Clinton without inviting scrutiny of how their own offices use or used email. For example, even as he criticizes Clinton, Democrats are pointing out that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had his own private email account during his gubernatorial tenure. Bush last month released a trove of emails from his time as governor, a move he was quick to point out Monday night after The New York Times revealed Clinton’s email activities.
Joe Larsen, a First Amendment attorney, called it hypocritical for Perry to criticize Clinton for apparently skirting email disclosure when he was frequently criticized for doing the same as governor. Perry’s office took heat over the years for deleting emails every seven days, a period Gov. Greg Abbott extended to 30 days immediately when he took office in January.
“Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous for Perry to be out there complaining about Clinton because his situation is no better, if not worse,” said Larsen, who sits on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Records from Perry’s gubernatorial tenure are currently being archived by the Texas State Library. Stephen Siwinski, a spokesman for the library, said Wednesday that the archive will include some emails between Perry and his staff, but library officials have not yet determined whether those exchanges involved personal addresses.