South Carolina Governor Sanford Says He'll Repay Cost of 2008 Argentina Trip

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admits to an affair with a woman from Argentina. Media reports circulated earlier in the week when the governor could not be located by staff or family. Video by South Carolina ETV and AP
By Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 26, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C., June 25 -- The only signs remaining here of Gov. Mark Sanford's riveting confession of infidelity were the television cameras staked out on the manicured lawns encircling the copper-domed state Capitol. Inside, the marble-floored rotunda, where Sanford tearfully bared his soul and admitted he was having an extramarital affair just 24 hours before, was nearly deserted.

But across the Palmetto State, South Carolinians were reeling Thursday, voicing disbelief and disgust over Sanford's adultery, his abandonment of the state, and his deception of his staff and the public about his whereabouts for a week. The governor's globe-trotting trysts became such an embarrassment that a state bureaucrat likened it to putting a dunce cap on South Carolina.

Some Republican officials joined Democratic lawmakers in calling for the two-term Republican governor to resign. Sanford's security detail described their anxious and failed efforts to locate the missing governor over the Father's Day weekend and painted a portrait of an erratic politician who often preferred to be alone. And travel documents surfaced Thursday showing Sanford used a state-funded trade trip to Argentina last year to have a secret romantic rendezvous with his mistress, prompting Sanford to say he would repay the state nearly $9,000.

Secluded with his wife, Jenny, and their four sons at their beach home, Sanford struggled to salvage both his increasingly precarious political career and his marriage. The saga will continue Friday at 12:30 p.m., when Sanford returns to Columbia for a hastily called meeting of his Cabinet.

But for Sanford, 49, a rising star once considered a possible presidential candidate, the question is: Will he succumb to the drum beat and step down, or fight through his remaining 18 months in office, even as an emasculated governor with few political defenders?

Glenn McCall, a South Carolina representative to the Republican National Committee, cited Sanford's past criticism of President Bill Clinton's infidelity to accuse him of hypocrisy and said Sanford should resign. Even RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele told a Detroit radio station that Sanford is "yet one more disappointment in failed leadership."

South Carolina House Speaker Robert W. Harrell Jr. (R), while saying the decision to resign is "in the governor's quote," said in an interview that he is concerned that South Carolina was "basically without a governor for five days. Had we had a catastrophe like a tornado or earthquake or if something happened in a prison or a train wrecked, we'd have been without a chief executive."

Added state Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D): "It is a problem when the CEO of a 4.5 million-person organization goes AWOL and nobody can reach him. It was a gross dereliction of duty."

Sanford found support in a familiar corner Thursday. His longtime friend and former chief of staff, state Sen. Tom Davis (R) -- the man to whom Sanford emotionally apologized Wednesday -- isn't giving up on him. "From what I know about this governor, I wouldn't bet against him," Davis said in an interview.

"I think that South Carolinians, like Americans in general, have a tremendous capacity for forgiveness," he said. "But they can spot hypocrisy and whether or not they see Mark as truthful. If they think he is, it'll be a positive response."

The stakes for forgiveness got even higher Thursday as new details emerged regarding Sanford's affair with the Argentine woman. Sanford led a delegation of state government and business leaders to Brazil and Argentina, for trade meetings from June 21 to 28, 2008. Sanford said he was going sightseeing on June 27 in Buenos Aires, but e-mails show that he was spending that day with his mistress.

"Last Friday I would had stayed embrassing (sic) and kissing you forever," the woman wrote to Sanford on July 4, 2008.

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