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Sanford’s office couldn't locate missing governor

Gov. Mark Sanford’s chief of staff, Scott English, called the governor’s cell phones 15 times during the governor’s secret trip to Argentina to visit his lover last month. But the governor never picked up.

Meanwhile Sanford’s communications director, Joel Sawyer, worked to minimize the fact the governor had been out of touch with his staff for about four days.

Records released Monday show Sawyer juggled e-mails and media calls from around the nation, giving a consistent message that was later proven to be untrue.

Those records also show Sanford declined a dinner invitation from a company looking to expand its business in South Carolina because Sanford planned to be in Argentina that day.

Sanford has since said he intentionally misled Sawyer and other staff members to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really with his Argentine lover.

First, Sawyer said the governor was taking a much needed break after the legislative session.

Later, after media pressure intensified, Sawyer refined the message: “The governor is hiking along the Appalachian Trail,” he repeatedly wrote to reporters June 22. “I apologize for taking so long to send this update, and was waiting to see if a more definitive idea of what part of the Trail he was on before we did so.”

Through the state’s open record laws, The State late Monday received nearly 600 pages of documents — e-mails and phone call exchanges — between the governor’s staff members.

The documents shed new light on a June 18-24 secret trip the governor took to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to visit his lover.

The governor was approached June 24 by a reporter from The State newspaper in the Atlanta airport as he exited a plane on his way back from Buenos Aires. He later confessed to the affair with Maria Belen Chapur, his Argentine lover, whom he called his soul mate, as well as other inappropriate contact with other unnamed women.

Critics who have called for the governor to step down said Sanford abandoned the state.

“It confirms what we had believed to be the case,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, “that no one knew or had any idea how to get a hold of him. At the end of the day, there’s no excuse for that.”

The documents show:

nþSome lawmakers worried about the political ramifications of the missing governor.

Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Lexington, and a Sanford supporter, sent an e-mail June 22 to Sawyer, saying he planned to attend a question-and-answer-session with state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, who first pointed out the governor was missing.

Ballentine said Knotts will “sure make issue with (the governor’s absence.”

“Pop him back if you can,” Sawyer responded.

-- Sanford’s state-issued cell phone made no calls from June 18, when he departed Columbia for Argentina, until June 25, a day after his public confession of his affair.

English got a call back from the governor the morning of June 23. It’s unclear what phone the governor used to call English.

-- At 8:45 a.m., English e-mailed Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, “I spoke to the boss. He’s safe and sound, as we expected. He will be back in the office tomorrow.”

Later that day, Sawyer sent an e-mail to reporters saying Sanford “called to check in with his chief of staff this morning. It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten.”

-- The e-mails also show very little communication between staff members as to Sanford’s whereabouts.

-- The governor allowed some economic development initiatives to take a back seat during his secret trip. Sanford was invited to — but turned down — a dinner invitation June 24 with representatives from a company looking to expand its S.C. operation, according to e-mail records. The company’s name was redacted. Sanford also declined a June 25 celebration event for a plant expansion by a S.C. business because his schedule was “just absolutely jammed this summer,” wrote a staffer in an e-mail.

-- By June 22, four days after Sanford had left for his trip, dozens of media outlets were working to determine where he was.

Some outlets, hoping to outdo their competition, were volunteering to coordinate with the governor’s office to spin the story to Sanford’s advantage.

A staffer with The Washington Times wrote in an e-mail that “if you all want to speak on this publicly, you’re welcome to Washington Times Radio. You know that you will be on friendly ground here!”

On June 23, a Fox News Channel correspondent wrote to Sawyer, “Having known the Governor for years and even worked with him when he would host radio shows for me — I find this story and the media frenzy surrounding it to be absolutely ridiculous! Please give him my best.”

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