SC Governor Used Taxpayer Funds to Visit Mistress in Argentina

June 26, 2009 - 3:41 PM
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford got back to work Friday, but first he had some more apologizing to do.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford reacts to a question from the media as he leaves a family home Thursday, June 25, 2009, on Sullivan's Island, S.C. The family is staying at the beach front property after the Governor admitted to having an affair with a woman from Argentina. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Columbia, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford got back to work Friday, but first he had some more apologizing to do.
 
In his first public event since he revealed his mistress in Argentina, the Republican governor met with state agency heads in what is usually a low-key Cabinet meeting. He specifically apologized to the agency leaders that handle economic development trips and his security, and likened his struggle to that of King David.
 
The governor, who talked about "moral absolutes" and God's law during his revealing, yet rambling news conference Wednesday, said King David "fell mightily, fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there."
 
"The epicenter of the administrative team really rests with the Cabinet," he said as photographers clicked away and news organizations aired the meeting live.
 
Sanford told the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division chief that he put the agency in a bad place by not telling offices he was going to Argentina last week. Then, he told the Commerce Department head he was sorry for visiting his mistress while on an economic development trip to South America about a year ago.
 
Sanford has said he would pay back an undisclosed amount for the nine-day trip to Brazil and Argentina for which taxpayers paid $12,000 last year. That includes $8,687 for Sanford's plane ticket, and $453 in lodging. A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department said Friday that initially plans were made to only visit Brazil, but Sanford asked for extra meetings in Argentina.
 
Sanford said the trip was legitimate but he put the agency in an awkward spot "based on what I did in terms of eating dinner down there."
 
About a week ago, Sanford disappeared to Buenos Aires, returning Wednesday to reveal the affair and publicly apologize to his wife and four sons, his supporters and constituents. He also resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
 
Sanford said he left his staff with the impression he was heading off for some solo hiking on the Appalachian Trail, a bogus story that they relayed to reporters who began asking where the governor had gone.
 
His secretive trip and affair have raised legal and ethical questions, and some have called for his resignation. Sanford, though, has said he has no plans to resign and told his Cabinet that it was time to get back to work.
 
Earlier Friday, the man who would replace Sanford if he did step down said he wasn't calling for the governor's resignation right away.
 
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, a fellow Republican, told The Associated Press that he spoke to Sanford on Thursday and "could tell he had done a lot of soul searching." The two, who have not been allies and don't run on the same ticket, didn't discuss the possibility of the governor stepping down.
 
"Mark Sanford is still my governor and regardless of what his decision is, I'm going to stand by and try to help him," Bauer told AP in his first interview since Sanford admitted to the affair.
 
Bauer's relationship with the Sanfords has been cool.
 
Jenny Sanford threw her support behind Bauer's rival in a GOP primary runoff for lieutenant governor in 2006, and the governor and Bauer have disagreed over whether the state's No. 2 needs security detail. Sanford's vetoes of the funding have been overridden by lawmakers.
 
Sanford, barred by state law from running again, leaves office in 2010. If he were to resign, Bauer - expected to run for the top spot - steps into the office. Other candidates are also jockeying for the job.
 
"Clearly it would give me an advantage," Bauer said of a Sanford resignation. "If it weren't so, there wouldn't be so many people thinking about running for governor concerned about it."
 
There are deep misgivings about Bauer, though. He spent much of the 2006 campaign recovering from injuries suffered when a plane he was flying crashed. He was also injured politically by news that he had been let off for speeding after troopers stopped him. He was elected the nation's youngest lieutenant governor in 2002 at age 33.
 
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Associated Press writers Jack Jones, Meg Kinnard and Katrina Goggins in Columbia, and Bruce Smith on Sullivans Island contributed to this report.