Some mainstream outlets are now suggesting that the Mark Sanford story is over, given his office’s explanation last night that the South Carolina governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and its update this morning that he’s checked in and will return to work tomorrow.
But a closer look suggests the questions are only multiplying.
This isn’t the first time that Sanford has gone AWOL. State Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican but frequent critic of the governor, told TPMmuckraker that there have been “frequent intervals where Sanford would leave for short periods of time” in which no one, including his security detail, knew where he was.
Knotts, a former state law enforcement officer, described Sanford — who has been considered a top contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — simply as someone congenitally ill-suited to the kind of constant monitoring the governor’s job requires. “He’s obviously not a person that would be happy with security,” said Knotts. “He just is a hard person to get used to security.”
Knotts said that, to his knowledge, none of Sanford’s previous absences had lasted overnight. In this case, Sanford was out of touch for five days.
Knotts also seemed to have concerns about the Appalachian story. He pointed out that Sanford took a vehicle from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with him, and said that it’s almost certain the vehicle would be armed. So if Sanford was hiking, did he leave the vehicle untended? “Was it sitting there in the parking lot with weapons in it?” Knotts asked. “I’m sure he didn’t unload the vehicle.”
In addition, it was reported yesterday that Sanford’s cell phone location had been late last week traced to Atlanta, which would not seem to be on any logical route from Columbia, South Carolina to the Appalachian Trail.
Wherever Sanford is, Knotts said that, rather than leaving authority in the hands of his unelected staff, the governor should have delegated power to the state’s lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer. “We got ports down here, we got hurricane season started up, we got prisons that could have riots,” he said. “We got all sorts of situations that could need a governor.”
As for Sanford’s office’s claims yesterday that they been in touch with the governor and knew his whereabouts, Knotts said: “They’re just circling the wagons. They didn’t know where he was.” Bauer’s office has said it was misled by Sanford’s staff into believing — and then telling the press — that Sanford’s staff had spoken with their boss.