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Official trip included meeting with mistress

Gov. Mark Sanford confessed to meeting with his mistress while on a state-paid Commerce Department trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina last year, after Commerce released records of the trip Thursday that put him in the city on official business.

The itinerary matched dates mentioned in an e-mail from Sanford to the woman that was sent a week later.

Within 20 minutes of the Commerce statement Thursday afternoon, Sanford’s office put out a statement offering to repay the more than $8,000 the state spent for his travel to Brazil and Argentina from June 21-28, 2008.

“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.

Sanford’s admission marks the second consecutive day the governor has offered up a confession that calls into question his judgment and honesty.

Friday in a 1 p.m. news conference, Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, plans to call for an independent investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division into Sanford’s activities. Sanford’s admission of an affair immediately raised questions about whether the governor had contact with his mistress while on state business or had planned state business to create chances to meet with his mistress.

E-mail exchanges between Sanford and the woman confirm a meeting during the trade mission.

“As I told you before, you brought happiness and love to my life and (I) will take you forever in my heart,” the woman wrote Sanford in a return e-mail on July 4, 2008. “I wasn’t aware (until) we met last week, the strong feelings I have for you, and believe me, I haven’t felt this since I was in my teen ages, when afterwards I got married.”

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the trip was not the governor’s idea, but was initiated by the Commerce Department. The agency, which is responsible for business development in South Carolina, is in the governor’s cabinet. Sanford appoints the agency’s director.

Sawyer said the trip helped the state land a $20 million investment from a Brazilian textile company. In October 2008, the Commerce Department announced Fitesa Petropar would build a manufacturing plant and create 80 jobs.

But adding Argentina meant South Carolina was undertaking a trade mission the U.S. government was unwilling to make.

Argentina had been a financial pariah since it defaulted on its international debt after its decade-long effort to peg its currency to the U.S. dollar collapsed in late 2001.

Lawmakers, state officials and many in the general public remain unsure about Sanford’s political fate after he left the state for seven days beginning last Thursday, without disclosing his whereabouts or being in communication with other state leaders or his family.

Sanford then misled his staff, the media and the public by telling them he was on a hiking trip in the Appalachian Trail. A reporter from The State newspaper met Sanford at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Wednesday morning, and Sanford said he had been in Argentina.

Sanford has said he won’t resign. He could be investigated by the S.C. attorney general for official misconduct. Also, the General Assembly could vote to impeach him, though no lawmakers have called for such a vote.

“Until all the facts are known, any speculation regarding potential action by this office is premature,” said S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, in a statement.

On a seven-day trip to Brazil and Argentina last year, Commerce officials took time out for a two-day hunting trip, records show.

Sanford and Commerce project manager Ford Graham peeled off from a group in Cordoba, Argentina, on a trade and investment mission and traveled on to Buenos Aires, about 435 miles away, records show.

Sanford was scheduled to arrive midafternoon on June 25. The records show no meetings for the governor until 6 p.m. on June 26, when he and Graham attended a meeting with Stefanini IT Solutions president Marco Stefanini. That meeting was scheduled to last an hour.

An e-mail indicated Sanford was with his mistress that day.

“Last Friday I would had stayed (embracing) and kissing you forever,” she said later in the July 4 communication.

Sanford left Buenos Aires to return to Columbia the next day at 8:30 p.m.

Graham’s travel cost the state $1,910, because he flew coach on the trade mission, while Sanford’s travel cost $8,687, according to Commerce.

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