'Hiking the Appalachian Trail': Mark Sanford Missing Case Solved?
June 25 Update:
It has been revealed that Mark Sanford's trips to Argentina may have been funded by tax-payer money, though he stated his most recent trip was paid for by his own money. Records show that taxpayers have spent a total of $21,488 on Sanford travel expenses, though it is not clear if he met with his mistress, Maria Belen Shapur, on any of such funded travels to South America, at least three of which were to Argentina. Though officials have agreed his trips to South America do not appear to fit within the timeframe of his affair, Sanford has stated he will repay the taxpayers money used for his trips to Argentina.
Sanford also traveled to China and Brazil through the state commerce department, and a review of its records late last year by state press found that taxpayers footed a total bill of $21,488 in Sanford travel. The governors’ office also spent $1,976 in travel for Sanford, according to the review.
June 24 Update:
Mark Sanford was in Argentina during his absence, from an apparently last-minute decision to visit Buenos Aires. He announced the morning of Wednesday, June 24, that he has been having an affair with Maria Belen Shapur, a woman in Argentina. Sanford also revealed he will resign as chairman of the Republican Governors' Association.
"I've been unfaithful to my wife," Sanford told a news conference in Columbia, the state capital. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."
June 23 Story:
Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, has been reported to have been "hiking on the Appalachian Trail" while he was missing from Thursday, June 18, to Monday, June 22.
Sanford is a second-term Republican who was recently at the center of media attention for speaking out adamantly against the Obama administration's bailouts, and for refusing to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money for schools, leading to a court battle that he lost.
The story of Sanford's disappearance broke when State Senator Jake Knotts, a Lexington Republican and known critic of Sanford, released a statement on Monday, June 22, announcing that the Sate Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was not aware where the governor was, and asked who was running the government in South Carolina.
Knotts make Sanford's absence public Monday by issuing a news release saying that SLED did not know where the governor was and asking who was in charge of S.C. government.
The mystery deepened with the revelation that Sanford's own wife, Jenny Sanford, did not know where he was, despite the father of their four children having missed Father's Day over the weekend. She stated she had no concern regarding Sanford's seeming disappearance and unknown location.
"He was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids," Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press.
Sanford's office and spokespeople delivered varied and contradictory statements throughout Monday, with some officials saying they had made contact with Sanford while others refused to confirm the fact. It came out that his last known location was Atlanta, Georgia, based on a picked up cell phone signal before the phone was turned off.
Finally, on Tuesday, June 23, Sanford spokesperson Joel Sawyer released a statement saying Sanford had contacted his office that morning and had been hiking on the Appalachian Trail since Thursday. According to the statement, Sanford had notified his office beforehand of his destination and that he would be hard to reach, though it appeared his office was not expecting to have had all contact cut completely.
Sanford is to return to his office on Wednesday in light of the media controversy surrounding his whereabouts.
In a statement, Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman said, "Governor Sanford called to check in with his chief of staff this morning. It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten.
"Given the circumstances and the attention this has garnered, the governor communicated to us that he plans on returning to the office tomorrow."
Despite the case of the missing governor apparently having been solved, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo insists that many questions remain, maintaining skepticism of the governor's story while lauding the public relations efforts of his office staff:
Even after putting out multiple contradictory stories about the governor's whereabouts over the course of the day, by putting out a statement last night claiming that Sanford was hiking at some unknown location on the Appalachian Trail, having been out of all contact for almost five days, they managed to get editors around the country to run stories headlined "found" and "mystery solved."
Others have proposed tongue-in-cheek speculations over a possible connection between Sanford's disappearance to "go hiking" and the simultaneous occurence of Naked Hiking Day (in celebration of the summer solstice) on Sunday, June 21.