South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admits he used bad judgment when he secretly visited his mistress during a state-funded trip to Argentina last year. But did he break the law?
As calls mounted for a criminal probe of the trade mission, a spokeswoman for the state’s law enforcement division said it doesn’t appear Sanford did anything illegal.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said the information provided so far indicates Sanford met his mistress on private time during a legitimate business trip.
“Perhaps his judgment was clouded, but he did not have criminal intent,” Timmons said on Saturday. “The situation would be completely different if he’d asked [the] Commerce [department] to set up the trip to Argentina with the sole intent to set up an extramarital affair.”
After going missing for days, the married father of four admitted on Wednesday he’d been back in Argentina to see a woman with whom he has been having a yearlong affair. His staff had said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
In a tearful, rambling press conference, the two-term Republican asked for forgiveness and explained that a long friendship with the woman had blossomed into romance a year ago, around the time of the trade mission, when he saw her in Buenos Aires.
On Thursday, Sanford agreed to reimburse the state for part of the more-than US$8,000 tab. Exactly how much he needs to pay back has not yet been determined, Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said on Saturday.
The state Commerce Department says the trip itinerary originally included only Brazil, but the governor later asked for economic development meetings in Argentina.
State Democratic Party Carol Fowler called on Saturday for legislative leaders to set up a bipartisan committee to investigate and criticized law enforcement, particularly the attorney general, for not launching a probe. Others calling for a criminal investigation include Republican state Senator Jake Knotts and government watchdog groups.
“Mark Sanford abandoned his official duties, deceived the public and misled the family. He has even admitted to using public funds to support his extramarital affair,” she said. “But in spite of 10 days of full national humiliation, South Carolinians still don’t know the whole truth. Is Mark Sanford simply an irresponsible public official or guilty of something criminal?”
Timmons said the State Law Enforcement Division is considering requests for a probe, but Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is expected to run for governor himself, has not committed to one, instead saying he will take his cue from state law enforcement.
“The only thing Attorney General McMaster has refused to do is act in a reckless and politically motivated fashion,” his spokesman, Mark Plowden, said on Saturday.
Sawyer declined to comment on Fowler’s request, and Republicans accused her of playing politics.