In Argentina, Sanford Sought Light Agenda

Gov. Mark Sanford has been forthcoming
Gov. Mark Sanford has been forthcoming" about the trip, his spokesman says. (Mary Ann Chastain - AP)
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By Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 10, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford used a team of state employees and U.S. Embassy officials to set up trade-related meetings for him in Buenos Aires in June 2008, but he repeatedly emphasized his desire to keep a "low-key" and light schedule during his three days there.

Sanford (R), who recently acknowledged seeing his Argentine mistress during the trip, accompanied his state's Brazil trade delegation for some dove hunting in Argentina's countryside but asked his staff to arrange for him to visit Buenos Aires, according to internal staff e-mails and memos obtained by The Washington Post under the public records law.

"The governor has decided he didn't want to do that [hunting trip] the full time but wanted to make some calls in Buenos Aires," a state Commerce Department employee wrote in an e-mail two weeks before the trip.

Before Sanford left, another commerce employee told the U.S. Embassy in Argentina that there was no need for the governor's visits with Argentine officials to be long or formal, the e-mail records show. The employee, S. Ford Graham, was the only state official to accompany Sanford to Buenos Aires.

"The Governor is perfectly content with meeting for a drink, or something to that effect," rather than having dinner, Graham wrote. He added that Sanford did not mind having a full schedule on Thursday, June 26, "but would prefer that Friday be a little more low key."

Sanford's itinerary for Friday, June 27 indicates that he planned to do self-guided sightseeing. He has since admitted that he spent that day with his girlfriend, Maria Belén Chapur.

Three weeks ago, after returning from a secret trip to Argentina over Father's Day weekend, Sanford confessed to having a mistress there.

A month before the 2008 trip, the state commerce secretary questioned his staff about plans for Graham to accompany the governor to Buenos Aires. "What is going on? I have not even confirmed if the Gov will let him go," Joe Taylor wrote. "Truth is that I think he is trying to decide if he wants a shadow or not."

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the governor has been "completely forthcoming" about the 2008 trip, which necessarily involved staff work.

"During the multiple trade missions that the governor has been on to China, Japan, Eastern Europe and Western Europe -- and in this case, South America -- there has always been a degree of interaction between the governor's staff and the Department of Commerce on the agenda," Sawyer wrote in an e-mail response. "In this case, since the governor was already going to be in Argentina for the bird hunt, Commerce was asked to add trade-related meetings in Argentina to the agenda as well."

State Sen. John M. "Jake" Knotts Jr. (R), a critic of Sanford, said the trip to Argentina was "totally uncalled for."

"He connived a way to use the taxpayers' money to get to see his 'soul mate,' as he calls her," Knotts said yesterday. He added: "There was no reason to go to Argentina except to waste the taxpayers' money, and use a deal about a hunting trip. We're not in the business of going hunting whenever we're looking for jobs."

Since returning from Argentina last month, Sanford has acknowledged that he also "crossed lines" with other women. Dozens of Republican leaders in South Carolina have called for him to step down, but he has said he has no plans to do so.

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