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Sanford will repay Argentine trip

Fri., June 26, 2009

S.C. governor visited lover while on ’08 junket to Brazil

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A day after Gov. Mark Sanford tearfully confessed to an affair, he stayed out of sight Thursday – raising his head only to issue a statement that he would repay South Carolina for the cost of one of his visits to Argentina.

In the statement, Sanford said he was “proud” of the 2008 trip, made partly to drum up business for the state, but said he “made a mistake” – meeting with his lover, whom Argentine media identified as Maria Belen Chapur, 43, a divorcee who lives in the trendy Palermo district of Buenos Aires.

“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,” he said.

Otherwise, Sanford, 49, spent the day with his wife and family, aides said.

But as a congressman who voted to impeach former President Bill Clinton in 1999, he would have been familiar with kinds of the questions buzzing around this sweltering city:

To what extent should Sanford be held accountable for his deceptions that briefly covered up his extramarital affair? Should he resign from office? Or be impeached?

And if he finishes the remaining year-plus of his term – which a spokesman said he intended to do – how could he get anything done with this hanging over him?

The state Legislature will not be back in session until January, but Sen. John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr., a fellow Republican but a longtime foe of Sanford’s, had called a closed-door meeting of close friends to discuss L’Affaire Sanford. Beforehand, he showed a stack of e-mails from voters that called on the governor to step aside or face impeachment.

“They’re burning me up about how this guy should resign,” Knotts said. “They’re telling me this guy has completely lost their confidence.”

Knotts didn’t say he wanted Sanford to step down, but he leveled a number of criticisms. Knotts said he worried about Sanford’s ability to attract business to the state, given his national notoriety.

“Is this the man to convince a large industry to come to South Carolina?” he asked.

Knotts said he wanted to determine if Sanford used any government funds in his voyages overseas.

Sanford has said he has made three trips to see his lover. The governor paid for the most recent trip with his own funds, said Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer. He said he knew very little about the trip before that one.

But the first of the three trips, Sawyer said, was a June 2008 trade mission to Brazil and Argentina, paid for with South Carolina tax dollars. On Thursday, in response to queries from news outlets, the state Commerce Department released details of that weeklong trip, including the $9,000-plus bill paid by state taxpayers.

Commerce officials said that after visiting Brazil, Sanford and a Commerce employee peeled away for a visit to Buenos Aires for some “official state meetings.”

Sanford volunteered to repay the state for the Argentine leg of the first trip.

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