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State E-mails Detail SC Gov's Argentina Trip Plans

When South Carolina's Commerce Department planned a trade mission to South America last year, Gov. Mark Sanford rejected a historic tour, requested meetings with real estate agents, and tried to make sure he would have at least an evening free in Buenos Aires.

It wasn't until last month that the married Republican governor tearfully admitted a yearlong affair with an Argentine woman, a friend who became more when he saw her during that taxpayer-funded trip.

Hundreds of e-mails provided by the state Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information request shed light on planning for the trip.

After Sanford gave a more detailed explanation of the affair in interviews with The Associated Press last week, saying Maria Belen Chapur was his soul mate but he would try to reconcile with his wife, even his closest allies said they were close to asking him to step down. But Sanford has hung on and insists he'll stay. He admitted the affair after disappearing on a secret trip to Argentina and telling his staff he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Sanford has reimbursed the state $3,300 for the part of the 2008 trip where he saw his mistress, whom he met in 2001 at a dance spot in Uruguay, and says he spent no other taxpayer money to see her.

The Commerce Department previously said the Buenos Aires trip grew out of Sanford's request for business meetings in Argentina. The department says he asked for those meetings because he didn't want to spend too much time on a privately paid bird hunting trip to Cordoba, Argentina, that Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor was planning after the group went to Brazil.

But an early draft of the itinerary called for Taylor to go to both Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Then Taylor decided the official trip would end in Brazil and invited delegation members to go hunting at their own expense in Cordoba. In the end, Sanford hunted with Taylor for a day before heading to Buenos Aires at taxpayer expense.

"The governor had decided that he didn't want to do that the full time, but wanted to make some calls in Buenos Aires," Commerce staffer Clarke Thompson wrote on June 12, 2008, a couple of weeks before the trip.

Sanford's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said Thursday that there has always been a degree of interaction between Sanford's staff and the Department of Commerce on trade mission agendas.

"In this case, since the governor was already going to be in Argentina for the bird hunt, Commerce was asked to add trade-related meetings in Argentina to the agenda as well," Sawyer said. "Commerce has acknowledged that no one from this office specifically asked to add a Buenos Aries portion to the trip, only generally an Argentina portion."

The e-mails show that agency staffers also asked the U.S. Consulate in Argentina to set up meetings with real estate people.

"He would like to meet with a real estate broker there, one that might have connections to ranches, farmland, etc. Not necessarily to buy, but he is interested in talking and learning more," Commerce staffer Ford Graham wrote on June 6.

Sanford worked in real estate development before running for and winning three terms in the U.S. House and he has continued to piece together parcels around a Beaufort plantation his family owns. It wasn't clear if he was seriously interested in buying property in Argentina.

As Sanford reviewed arrangements, he tried to keep his evening hours free. "Don't need real estate meeting as dinner, would like that as a meeting on Thur," he wrote from a personal e-mail account on June 11.

But Sanford also emphasized the business he wanted done. "Let me know of other interesting or important import or export angles from a SC current or future possibility standpoint." On June 17, he pressed further: "Any new news on business meetings in the afternoon?"

Taylor appeared to guard Sanford's ability to be alone on the trip as the itinerary was being finalized, warning a subordinate in a May 8 e-mail that plans "have also not cleared with the Gov on whether he wants Ford (Graham) with him in BA or not" and she had created expectations that Graham would go along.

In a May 23 e-mail, Taylor said Sanford was still looking at the final trip plans that now included Graham.

"Well, he said he needed to look at it again," Taylor wrote. "I think you are fine with the itinerary. Truth is I think he is trying to decide if he wants a shadow or not."


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