Sanford Sex Scandal Grows: Did Governor Use Tax Money to Finance Affair?

Governor's office says Sanford paid for last week's trip himself.

ByABC News
June 24, 2009, 11:30 AM

June 25, 2009— -- Facing questions over whether he used taxpayer funds to pay for trips to Argentina to see the woman with whom he admitted having an extramarital affair, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Thursday that he would repay the state for a 2008 business trip to Buenos Aires.

The dates of that taxpayer-funded trip matched dates on steamy e-mails released Wednesday between the governor and the woman, named Maria, with whom he had an affair. It appears that the two were sexually intimate during the visit.

Sanford said at a press conference Wednesday that it was around that time his friendship with the woman "sparked into something more" than a friendship.

"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," Sanford said in a statement released this afternoon. "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."

According to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Sanford's airline tickets cost $8,687, and included flights to different cities in Brazil and Argentina. The only taxpayer funds used for any of the Argentina portion of the trip were for Sanford and Commerce Project Manager Ford Graham, the department said.

The governor's office said he paid for last week's trip -- his most recent visit to Argentina -- from his own pocket, and that "he plans to stay on as governor, and is going to focus on building back the trust of South Carolinians," adding that the governor "is spending time with his family" today.

The Republicans' response toward their colleague has been mixed. In a letter expressing his support, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "I hope Mark will reconcile with his family and can continue serving as our state's governor."

But former presidential hopeful and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Sanford should spare himself and his family public scrutiny by stepping down, "not because of his personal behavior, but for putting his personal behavior above the responsibility for being available to govern and lead in the event of a crisis."

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the Palmetto State's second representative in the U.S. Senate, would only say through his office that he was "disappointed."

After a meeting of Republican leaders back at Sanford's state capital, state Sen. Jake Knotts called for the governor's resignation, and a criminal investigation into his travels.

"He should strongly consider resigning for the good of the taxpayers of South Carolina, and the good of this state," said Knotts.

Former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said state Republican officials will want to make sure everything is out in the open.

"I would say that our elected Republican officials are going to want as much disinfectant on this process as they can get," said Dawson.

J. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat in the South Carolina House of Representatives, said the governor should resign.

"He lied, he continued to lie. He neglected his duty, and that's why I am asking for his resignation," Rutherford told

Sanford told his staff he was on a hiking trip in the Appalachian Mountains and did not make anyone -- including the lieutenant governor, who would be in charge during his absence -- aware that he had left the country.

During a press conference Wednesday, Sanford said that his eight-year friendship with the mystery woman transformed into a romance about a year ago and that he had seen her three times since the "whole sparking thing."

Though Sanford's multiple trips to Buenos Aires have some crying foul, South Carolina Democrats don't foresee an investigation.

"He is surrounded by ... a total Republican administration," Rutherford said. "Republicans seem, at this point, to be coalescing behind him."

The South Carolina state Legislature does not convene until January. It can be called into a special session before then, but Rutherford said that is unlikely to happen. A Senate staffer told there has been no discussion of an investigation or impeachment in the state Senate.

In the legislature's absence, the attorney general can call for an investigation. The attorney general's office did not return calls to ABC News seeking comment.

ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos noted today on "Good Morning America" that Republican politicians have generally fared better than their Democratic counterparts after sex scandals.

While Sanford and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who admitted an affair earlier this month, show no signs of resigning their posts, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer left his job after winning a landslide election when he got caught in a prostitution scandal. And former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey also resigned after he admitted to an affair with a male staff member.

Rutherford said that if a Democrat were involved in such a scandal in Republican-heavy South Carolina, the situation would be very different.

"These are the same people who jumped on Bill Clinton, and now they're saying, 'let's talk about forgiveness, let's talk about family,'" he said.

Stephanopoulos said Sanford's admission was unprecedented, in part, because of how candid he was about his infidelity.

"We've never seen anything like this ... the raw emotion, the amount of information the governor gave out was simply incredible," Stephanopoulos said.