Push begins for investigation into Sanford's Argentina trips - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Push begins for investigation into Sanford's Argentina trips

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Sen. Jake Knotts speaks to the media Friday at the State House Sen. Jake Knotts speaks to the media Friday at the State House
Sanford makes his way through a crowd of reporters, onlookers Sanford makes his way through a crowd of reporters, onlookers

By Logan Smith - email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A movement has begun to open an investigation into Governor Mark Sanford's trips to Argentina, during which he carried on an extramarital affair with a Buenos Aires woman.

Republican state Senator Jake Knotts says he met with SLED Director Reggie Lloyd Friday morning, and asked the agency to investigate any misappropriation of tax dollars, malfeasance in office, misconduct in office and whether anyone knowingly lied about the governor's activities.

"For seven years he has nothing but been a protector of the taxpayers' money, and now come to find out it's being misused," said Knotts. "But it's 'okay' if you misuse it and you are allowed to pay it back. There is no forgiveness for misuse or taking taxpayer money."

But a SLED spokesman said Friday that given the information known, they do not believe a criminal investigation will be launched.

Emails given to The State newspaper appear to indicate Sanford began an affair with the woman, whom Argentine media identifies as 41-year-old María Belén Chapur, during a taxpayer-funded trip with the Commerce Department in July 2008. Sanford said this week he will repay the cost of the trip.

Knotts says as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will have the committee investigate with full subpoena power into the matter.

In an effort to return to business as usual, Governor Sanford met with his cabinet Friday, apologizing for the scandal. Lloyd was specifically named in the apology because Sanford used a SLED-issue SUV while he was missing last week.

"Each of our agency directors has a job to do in serving the people of South Carolina, and despite how I have disappointed them and the people of South Carolina collectively, we all have important roles to fill in this larger administration," Sanford said.

Senator Knotts says he is not asking Sanford to step down right now, but says he and other lawmakers have discussed asking for that. A top state GOP official has called for Sanford's resignation, however.

The news comes as a state representative also asks for an investigation into Governor Sanford's activities related to his extramarital affair and trips out of the country.

Rep. H. Boyd Brown, a 22-year-old Democrat representing District 41, sent a letter to Attorney General Henry McMaster Friday requesting a grand jury investigation into the matter.

Brown's letter says the events surrounding the affair "give rise to numerous and serious questions about the lawful nature of the acts and actions of the Governor, his staff and member of his cabinet."

Brown asks McMaster to appoint a grand jury "to investigate the possible misuse of state property, finances, abuse of power and the negligence of duties in the Office of Governor."

McMaster has said Sanford was required by the state constitution to leave Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in charge of the state while away, which Sanford did not do.

A Washington, DC watch group is also asking McMaster to investigate.

Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, says the governor broke the law.

"I think Mr. Sanford did several things wrong here," Sloan said. "First the disappearing act -- the South Carolina Constitution requires that somebody be left in charge and Mr. Sanford did not leave anybody in charge, and the Lt. Governor was completely at sea here. Secondly, there's a crime in South Carolina of official misconduct. I think Mr. Sanford by lying about his whereabouts by just leaving his job and leaving everybody at loose ends. I think that too may have constituted a crime, and then there's the problem of whether he used official funds to conduct this affair, which would also be against the law."

McMaster appeared to refuse those calls Friday.

"I have confidence in the professionalism and objectivity of SLED," McMaster said in a statement. "If there is anything we don't know, or if there is any credible evidence that any laws have been broken, then appropriate action should be taken."

"Criminal investigations should never be politically inspired," McMaster said. "I hope all sides will resist attempting to use the investigative and prosecutorial powers of law enforcement for political purposes. Mixing politics and law enforcement is never a good idea."

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