Sanford's 'back channel' link to office still mystery

ORANGEBURG, S.C. - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford continued Monday to refuse to answer how his staff could have reached him during his summertime visit with his Argentine mistress, a question that several lawmakers believe is key to his political future.

 

While the two-term Republican has detailed his relationship and yearlong affair with the woman he called his "soul mate," he never has explained how he was to be reached during his rendezvous with Maria Belen Chapur in June.

He's insisted he was reachable via a "back channel" by an adviser who was not his spokesman or chief of staff, but Sanford has not offered other details.

"I've answered you ad nauseam on all kinds of different things," Sanford said Monday when asked following a speech to the Orangeburg Kiwanis Club about his plans for the upcoming legislative session. He did not answer the question.

Lawmakers said Monday that the governor needs to make public his method of contacting the state while he was away for five days. His staff said Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Some legislators considering whether to try to oust the governor and are focused in part on his lack of communication while he was away.

"I don't know who the back channel was but he needs to step up to the plate now that his removal from office could be based on that issue alone," said state Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican who has called on Sanford to resign.

State Rep. Greg Delleney, who plans to introduce an impeachment resolution for the upcoming legislative session in January, said he doubts Sanford could or did stay in touch with his staff and has said the trip constituted "dereliction of duty."

An impeachment resolution would begin in the House. Delleny, R-Chester, said the governor would have to convince lawmakers that a "back channel" mode of contact existed at all.

"SLED (the State Law Enforcement Division) and his staff couldn't find him for five days. The back channel wasn't working if he had one," Delleney said Monday.

Records of phone calls made on the governor's state-issued phone and e-mails during his absence, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, did not indicate Sanford was in touch with his office. His chief of staff repeatedly called him with no response.

Other questions have been raised about the governor's airplane travel since he took office. A state Ethics Commission probe based in part on AP investigations into state, commercial and private plane flights is under way.

One GOP state senator who looked into the governor's pricey commercial airline travel said Sanford broke the law, and no House Republicans came to the governor's defense Saturday when lawmakers met to discuss whether he should resign.

The governor has said he did nothing wrong and his travel has been mischaracterized. He said Monday that the pressure about his past dealings shows media are interested in things the public is not.

"There's this disconnect between the questions that I get asked by working people and the questions that are asked in the political world or the media world," Sanford said.