South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford did not spend the last five days hiking the Appalachian Trail — as his staff indicated — but instead was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he told The State newspaper.
Spotted returning from the trip at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday morning, the Republican governor told The State he had considered hiking the Appalachian Trail after his state’s busy legislative season ended but instead decided differently. “I wanted to do something exotic. It’s a great city,” Stanford said, referring to Buenos Aires. His staff and family seemed to be in the dark about his whereabouts. Sanford also said no one else accompanied him on the trip, the paper reported. The Republican governor and possible 2012 contender told the newspaper only that he took a drive along the coastline on his trip. Sanford told The State the legislative session was difficult for him, particularly losing the fight over whether he should accept $700 million in federal stimulus money he wanted lawmakers to spend on debt instead of urgent budget needs. Sanford also said he hadn’t planned to return until Thursday, but came back earlier after his chief of staff contacted him to say the story of his whereabouts was drawing widespread media attention. Sanford expressed surprise that the story was attracting such attention, saying it’s not unusual for him to take such trips. “I would get out of the bubble I am in,” he said, according to the paper.
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In a short interview with CNN Tuesday, Sanford’s wife Jenna said she had not talked to her husband since he left last Thursday and did not know where he went. “I am being a mom today. I have not heard from my husband. I am taking care of my children,” she said outside the couple’s beach home on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. Following onfusion over his whereabouts, a Sanford spokesman said Monday that the governor had been hiking along the Appalachian Trail. A black Chevy Suburban believed to have been used by Sanford to leave town was spotted Tuesday in the parking lot of Columbia Metropolitan Airport. CNN was alerted to its location by a law enforcement official. The SUV was outfitted with blue police lights and two-way radio. A parking permit for the school attended by Sanford’s children was on the windshield. State Democrats, meanwhile, have been taking Sanford’s trip as a political opportunity. A posting on the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Web site invites people to e-mail the party “the questions they most want” Sanford to answer. The posting says the party will send the questions to the governor. “South Carolinians have been very concerned about Gov. Sanford’s actions over the last eight months. “They have a right to ask the governor about our state’s unemployment rate, the stimulus and his reasons for abandoning the state,” the head of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Carol Fowler, said in a press release. Another key Democrat — State Senate Minority Leader John Land — accused Sanford of erratic behavior. “We’ve been concerned by the governor’s erratic behavior for some time,” Land said in a prepared statement. “We’re praying for him and his family. I hope he is safe and that he contacts the first lady and his family soon.” State Sen. Jake Knotts, a fellow Republican and adversary of Sanford, said South Carolina law enforcement officials informed him Saturday that the governor had taken a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division vehicle on Thursday and had not yet returned. “I found out that he was taking frequent trips at odd times of the night in a SLED car with no security,” Knotts said. “He would be driving. I got wind that he had taken another one of these types of capers last Thursday, and that nobody knew who he was with.” Knotts added that on Saturday, he “was getting wind that he had not shown back up and nobody knew where he was.” He said a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division official told him Monday that Sanford had not returned. “He needs to transfer the power and let the lieutenant governor, which the constitution requires, let him be the person that makes the decisions.” Knotts said. “My concern was, ‘Who would be in charge should an emergency arrive for the safety of the people and citizens of the state'”