Gov. Mark Sanford arrived in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this morning, having wrapped up a seven-day visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said. Sanford said he had not been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, as his staff said in a Tuesday statement to the media.
Sanford's whereabouts had been unknown since Thursday, and the mystery surrounding his absence fueled speculation about where he had been and who's in charge in his absence. His emergence Wednesday ended the mystery.
Sanford, in an exclusive interview with The State, said he decided at the last minute to go to the South American country to recharge after a difficult legislative session in which he battled with lawmakers over how to spend federal stimulus money.
Sanford said he had considered hiking on the Appalachian Trail, an activity he said he has enjoyed since he was a high school student.
"But I said 'no' I wanted to do something exotic," Sanford said "… It's a great city."
The governor said he cut his trip short after his chief of staff, Scott English, told him his trip was gaining a lot of media attention and he needed to come back.
When asked why his staff said he was on the Appalachian Trail, Sanford replied, "I don't know."
Sanford later said "in fairness to his staff," he had told them he might go hiking on the Appalachian Trial.
Also, his press secretary issued a statement Monday at 5:00 pm that said, "“Before leaving last week, (Sanford) let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach.” Then the press secretary reiterated that Sanford was hiking the trail.
Sanford told reporters he was travelling alone.
Hey, it could be true. Maybe we'll never know. However, even if it is true, it's a little disconcerting — the governor of a state just flies away without telling his staff or family where he's going or when he will be back. Can't do that mister. Kind of irresponsible.
I think Sanford may have blown his 2012 presidential bid.
UPDATE: The AP showing some skepticism at the whole "driving the Argentina coast" thing.
Sanford told The State he was alone on the trip to Argentina. He declined to give any additional details about what he did other than to say he drove along the coastline.
Trying to make such a drive could frustrate a weekend visitor to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the Avenida Costanera is the only coastal road, and it's less than two miles long. Reaching coastal resorts to the south requires a drive of nearly four hours on an inland highway with views of endless cattle ranches. To the north is a river delta of islands reached only by boat.
THE PLOT GROW THICKER UPDATE from ABC:
ABC’s Joe Goldman reports that a US embassy official in Buenos Aires tells him that the embassy had “absolutely no idea” that Sanford was in Argentina. The embassy official added that this comes "from out of left field — it would be extremely odd that a US governor would not check in with the embassy."