Now that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has explained his five-day disappearance by admitting he was with his mistress in Argentina, the focus Thursday is on whether the two-term Republican breached state law by leaving without establishing a chain of command or spent taxpayer money to pay for the extramarital affair.
State Sen. Glenn McConnell, a fellow Republican, questioned whether Mr. Sanford broke the law when he failed to transfer power to the lieutenant governor, according to the Associated Press.
“I would think that if the evidence indicates that there is a willful effort to circumvent the constitution, I think there would be a chorus of calls for him to resign,” said Mr. McConnell, the state’s top senator.
He also said Mr. Sanford, 39, needs to answer questions about whether taxpayer money was used for trips to Buenos Aires, but stopped short of calling for an investigation. A Sanford spokesman has said no state resources were used during the affair.
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said he wasn’t angry at his boss, just disappointed.
“What if there’s a prison outbreak,” he said. “We’re in hurricane season… . What do we do for evacuation. Who calls the shots.”
On Thursday, Mr. Sanford was with his family at their beach home on Sullivan’s Island, spokesman Joel Sawyer said. The governor’s wife, Jenny Sanford, and the couple’s four sons have been staying at the house.
Mr. Sawyer also told the Associated Press that Mr. Sanford has spent the last two days touching base with other elected officials and has apologized personally to his staff.
Mr. Stanford misled his staff last week by saying he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Fighting to keep his composure, the two-term Republican — widely considered a potential presidential candidate in 2012 — apologized to his wife, his four sons and his constituents, who, he said, may never trust him again.
“I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back-and-forth in advice on one’s life there and advice here,” he said at a news conference at the statehouse in Columbia.
“But here recently, over this last year, it developed into something much more than that,” Mr. Sanford said.
Ending a bizarre episode that began with reports of a governor who had disappeared over Father’s Day weekend, Mr. Sanford admitted that he had told his staff he was heading for the Appalachian Trail to recover from a bruising legislative session. He also said he had told his wife about the affair five months ago, and they were working on their marriage.
He said he had seen the woman three times in the past year, but did not explain why he went to Argentina or the status of his relationship with the woman.
“I spent five days crying in Argentina,” said Mr. Sanford, who said his friendship with the unnamed woman began when he counseled her not to leave her husband for the sake of her two boys.
After the news conference, aired live nationally, the governor’s wife, Jenny Sanford, said she and Mr. Sanford had separated two weeks ago — a statement that cleared up why she was unable to answer for his vacation destination.
“I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity, dignity and importance of the institution of marriage. I believe that has been consistently reflected in my actions. When I found out about my husband’s infidelity, I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage,” she said.
“We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect and my basic sense of right and wrong. I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago,” Mrs. Sanford said.
She called it a trial separation with the goal of resurrecting their marriage.
The state’s Democratic leader, who had flamed concern about a rudderless state when Mr. Sanford could not be contacted, decided simply to watch the Republican debacle unfold.
“Our thoughts are with the governor’s family at this time. Mark Sanford should be given time to focus on his family right now,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler said in a statement. “There will be other opportunities in the weeks ahead to discuss his effectiveness as our state’s governor.”
At least one state lawmaker called for his resignation.
In his news appearance, Mr. Sanford did not even hint about possibly resigning as governor.
He said he was resigning immediately as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He said he wouldn’t have time to devote to the association because he plans to visit with friends, colleagues and constituents throughout the state to extend his apologies in person.
Association Executive Director Nick Ayers issued a statement Wednesday, saying “we accept” Mr. Sanford’s resignation.
Reached Wednesday by phone while on a fundraising trip in the Northeast, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, another potential Republican presidential nomination contender in 2012, confirmed that, as association vice chairman, he immediately succeeds to the chairmanship with Mr. Sanford’s resignation.
He said he didn’t think that gave him any advantage for a possible 2012 nomination run. “I was in line to become chairman in November, so now I just become chairman earlier,” Mr. Barbour told The Washington Times.
Asked his reaction to Mr. Sanford’s situation, Mr. Barbour said, ‘I don’t think it is becoming or appropriate or serves any purpose to talk about people’s personal lives.”
“I feel bad about it, but I don’t have anything else to say,” Mr. Barbour added.
Mr. Sanford waxed philosophic about the situation.
“The odyssey that we’re all on in life is with regard to heart. Not what I want or what you want but in other words, indeed this larger notion of truly trying to put other people first,” said Mr. Sanford, who voted in favor of three of four articles of impeachment against President Clinton.
The State newspaper in Columbia released e-mails it had obtained between the governor and the woman in Argentina.
“How in the world this [lightning] strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure,” he wrote in a 2008 e-mail. “As I have said to you before I certainly had a special feeling about you from the first time we met, but these feelings were contained and I genuinely enjoyed our special friendship and the comparing of all too many personal notes …”