- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

Embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Thursday to meeting with his Argentine mistress last year during a taxpayer-funded trip to South America as he faced calls for his resignation and an investigation into his activities.

Mr. Sanford, 49, met with the woman during a 2008 trip to Brazil and Argentina funded by taxpayers, according to documents released by the South Carolina Department of Commerce and reported by the Columbia, S.C., newspaper the State.

The two-term Republican governor, once regarded as a viable presidential candidate, said in a statement that he would reimburse the state for the $8,000 trip taken June 21-28. He did not specify how much of the cost he planned to repay.

“…While the purpose of this trip was an entirely professional and appropriate business development trip, I made a mistake while I was there in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with,” Mr. Sanford said. “That has raised some very legitimate concerns and questions, and as such I am going to reimburse the state for the full cost of the Argentina leg of this trip.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr. said he planned to hold a press conference Friday to call for an independent investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division into Mr. Sanford’s activities.

South Carolina Republican National Committee member Glenn McCall called on the governor to resign in an interview with CNN, noting that Mr. Sanford had been critical of former President Bill Clinton after he was found to have had an extramarital affair.

“He was saying our elected leaders need to stand firm on principles and values and one of those is strong family values,” Mr. McCall said. “What he said is hypocritical if he doesn’t step down, because he was right with what he said about Clinton and others.”

“When you are elected leaders we hold you to higher standards,” he added.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal also called on Mr. Sanford to step down in a Thursday editorial, saying the governor “cannot navigate a deep and painful personal crisis and lead the state through its economic crisis at the same time. He should resign.”

Mr. Sanford admitted Wednesday to having an affair with a woman he has known for eight years. The confession came after days of speculation about Mr. Sanford’s whereabouts. He flew last week to Argentina, but his staff reported that he had gone hiking in the Appalachian Trail. His wife, Jenny Sanford, said at one point that she didn’t know where he was.

Mrs. Sanford, who said she learned of the affair earlier this year, issued a statement saying that she loved her husband and she remained “willing to forgive … if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.”

The couple had been living apart after agreeing to a trial separation two weeks ago. They have four school-age sons.

Since Mr. Sanford’s confession, questions have swirled about whether he used state funding to pay for trips to visit his mistress, whether he lied to staffers and how often he visited Argentina during his tenure as governor.

Several media outlets identified Mr. Sanford’s mistress Thursday as Maria Belen Chapur, a 43-year-old divorcee and businesswoman with two children of her own.

State Sen. Tom Davis, Mr. Sanford’s former chief of staff, said that the governor might be able to weather the storm if voters believe that he truly regretted his actions.

“I think that South Carolinians, in particular Americans, have tremendous capacity for forgiveness. That said, they can also recognize hypocrisy. I think the tale of the tape will be the next few days, whether or not Gov. Sanford is sincere in his repentance,” said Mr. Davis on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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