Sanford's trip meant to rekindle romance

FILE - In this file photo taken Aug. 13, 2009, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford listens to remarks during the Budget and Control Board meeting in Columbia,S.C. South Carolina's Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer will ask embattled Gov. Mark Sanford to resign at a Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009 news conference, his spokesman said. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain/FILE)

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he spent last weekend in Florida with his Argentine lover, hoping to rekindle the affair that wrecked his marriage and his political future and brought a formal rebuke from legislators for embarrassing the state.

At a news conference on an unrelated issue, Sanford did not mention Maria Belen Chapur by name when asked about a weekend trip out of state about which his staff has refused to provide details. But the governor, now divorced, left no room for doubt.

"As a matter of record, everybody in this room knows exactly who I was with over the weekend," Sanford said. "That is no mystery to anybody given what I said last summer. And, you know, the purpose was obviously to see if something could be restarted on that front given the rather enormous geographic gulf between us. And time will tell. I don't know if it will or won't."

Questions arose after the Web site Gawker posted comments from tipsters who reported seeing Sanford in the Florida Keys this past weekend with a tall, attractive brunette they assumed was Chapur. Sanford said he didn't stay at the hotel mentioned in that posting or a subsequent published report.

He said Wednesday that he owed it to the public to say he was being protected by Florida law enforcement on the trip and that he was in touch with his office while away. Those became issues when he disappeared for five days last summer.

Beyond that, he said, the media should back off.

"But this obsession with one's personal life at some point has got to end," Sanford said.

He did not provide details about the trip or say whether it was the first time he had seen Chapur since he vanished from the state last June and returned to say he had been in Argentina visiting her. He told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He appeared before cameras to tearfully admit the yearlong affair with the woman he described days later as his soul mate.

Ethics inquiry would be open

The South Carolina Senate has unanimously approved legislation that would open up ethics investigations to public scrutiny as soon as decisions to pursue charges are made.

The 38-0 Senate vote on Wednesday sends the bill back to the House.

It's one of several measures legislators have taken up this year in the wake of a scandal involving Gov. Mark Sanford that led to investigations of his travel practices.

Sanford agreed to pay a record $74,000 fine for 37 travel-related ethics charges in March. He'd fought plans to release the full investigation last fall but the state Supreme Court said he had months earlier waived confidentiality.

-- Associated Press