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

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

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.

Friends Shocked by Sanford's Confessions

Sanford's former chief of staff said he was just as blindsided by his friend's announcement as the public.

"What I saw yesterday ... is a man who realized he sinned," Tom Davis told "GMA" today, but he added that Sanford "should not resign."

Sanford invoked Davis' name several times while admitting to the affair during Wednesday's press conference, emphasizing how he "let down the Tom Davises of the world."

Davis, a close family friend who lived in the family's basement for six months during Sanford's first race for governor in 2002, said that Sanford did let him down.

"I think I represent to him people that have believed in him, people that have believed in the powers of his ideas," Davis said.

Davis said he spoke with Sanford for about an hour-and-a-half before the press conference. Up until that point, Davis said he had no idea that the governor's trip would blow up into such a wide-reaching scandal.

Davis said that while he has not spoken to the governor's wife, Jenny Sanford, he believes his friend understands "the very real hurt he knows he caused people."

Sanford coyly sang the praises of his mistress's body and agonized over their "hopelessly impossible situation of love" in e-mails to the woman that emerged Wednesday, hours after he held a press conference to announce the affair.

The State, which broke the news about Sanford's trip to Buenos Aires after speaking to him at the Atlanta airport upon his arrival this morning, obtained private e-mail exchanges between the governor and Maria.

When contacted by ABC News, Sanford's office did not dispute the authenticity of the e-mails.

In an e-mail dated July 10, 2008, Sanford writes that the two are in a "hopelessly impossible situation of love," and that he feels "a little vulnerable because this is ground I have never certainly never covered before."

"You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light -- but hey, that would be going into sexual details," Sanford writes.

"In the meantime please sleep soundly knowing that despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul," the e-mail reads.

Maria, described as the mother of two sons, wrote in an e-mail June 9, 2008, "You are my love. ... Something hard to believe even for myself as it's also a kind of impossible love, not only because of distance but situation. Sometimes you don't choose things, they just happen. ... I can't redirect my feelings and I am very happy with mine towards you."

The affair, Sanford said, began "casually," but over the "last year developed into something much more."

"We developed a remarkable friendship over those eight years and then ... about a year ago it sparked into something more than that," Sanford said. "I have seen her three times since then, during that whole sparking thing. ... And it was discovered ... five months ago. And at that point, we went into serious overdrive in trying to say, 'Where do you go from here?'"

Jenny Sanford Asked Governor to Move Out

Sanford said in the press conference that his wife of nearly 20 years was aware of his affair before he left for Argentina, and that the family had been trying to work through the situation for "about the last five months."

He also resigned from his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, saying he would need time to seek forgiveness from friends and family and to focus on what he called a "very long process."

In a written statement, his wife, Jenny Sanford, said, "I deeply regret the recent actions of my husband Mark, and their potential damage to our children."

She said she asked her husband to leave two weeks ago and to not contact her or their four sons, which explains why the family was unaware of the governor's whereabouts during his unexpected disappearance.

"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 in a release. "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."

But South Carolina's first lady hinted that she was willing to forgive her husband and that "this trial separation was agreed to with the goal of ultimately strengthening our marriage."

Invoking the Bible, she said, "I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance."

The couple started their careers on Wall Street, where Jenny Sanford was a vice president in mergers and acquisitions at the investment bank Lazard Freres, the Associated Press reports. The couple met in the Hamptons, Long Island, married and headed to South Carolina.

This is the second such scandal to rock the GOP this month. Earlier this month, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., admitted to an affair with a campaign staffer and resigned as leader of the Republican Policy Committee.

Almost immediately after Sanford's resignation as chairman of RGA, the organization announced that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will take over as chairman.

South Carolina residents expressed mixed views.

"Here you are cheating. That doesn't stand right with me at all as a woman," Zippora Gregory told ABC News.

"It's happened in politics before and I'm sure it's never going to end," said Camillo Miller.

Sanford Leading Opponent of Obama's Stimulus Plan

Sanford recently emerged as an outspoken opponent to President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, becoming the only governor to reject the federal stimulus money.

Instead of using the stimulus money to fund projects, Sanford argued that the money instead be used to pay down South Carolina's deficit, an argument rejected by the federal government. He also lost in court when South Carolina's Supreme Court ruled that the governor had to accept the money.

Additionally, the Republican-dominated South Carolina Legislature last week overturned all 10 of Sanford's vetoes on the stimulus.

Sanford was widely seen as eyeing the White House in 2012. In an interview with ABC News two weeks ago, the governor said, "It's not my focus, it's not my aim, it's not my intent," but added "you never say never."

Those ambitions, some say, may be dashed for now.