By JIM DAVENPORT
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford pushed for a packed schedule but wanted to keep an evening free on the taxpayer-funded trip to Buenos Aires where he says his friendship with an Argentine woman turned physical, e-mails released Thursday show.
Hundreds of e-mails provided by the state Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information request also show that Sanford rejected an organized tour of historic sites during the June 2008 trade mission. The trip was originally supposed to include only Brazil, but Sanford requested business meetings in Buenos Aires.
Last month, the married Republican governor stunned his state by disappearing on a secret trip to Argentina for nearly a week before returning and tearfully admitting a yearlong affair with a woman there named Maria Belen Chapur. He had told his staff he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
After Sanford gave a more detailed explanation of the affair in interviews with The Associated Press last week, saying Chapur is his soul mate but he will 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.
The state GOP was only able to muster enough votes in a meeting Monday to rebuke him, and a rally Thursday calling for his resignation drew only 60 people, mostly Democrats. Among them was Lori Wind of Charleston, who said a state law enforcement investigation that found Sanford did not misuse public funds to see Chapur was insufficient because it relied on his statements.
"Why is an attempt being made to sweep this under the rug?" the 39-year-old accountant asked.
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.
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.