S.C. Gov. Sanford disappears; last heard from on Thursday

No one -- including law enforcement, and his wife -- seems to know where the governor is, or who's in charge

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 22, 2009 7:50PM (EDT)

Some politicians take their privacy more seriously than others, and are reticent about disclosing details of their personal lives. But it's still very rare to see a sitting governor just up and go missing for days, leaving his office, his state's law enforcement -- even his wife -- without any clue as to his whereabouts.

That's what South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been doing since Thursday, when he reportedly left the governor's mansion in a black SUV owned by the State Law Enforcement Division, which handles his security detail. His phones have been turned off, and he hasn't responded to phone or text messages, a local paper, The State, reports. The last clue as to his location came when a cell tower near Atlanta picked up a signal from his phone. His wife, First Lady Jenny Sanford, has told the Associated Press that she doesn't know where he is -- but she says she's not concerned.

There have been conflicting explanations for the governor's absence. Jenny Sanford told the AP that her husband needed some time away from their children in order to write something. But a statement from his office says he's "taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside." It adds that the office will not discuss any specifics regarding his trip.

State Sen. Jake Knotts, who is a Republican like Sanford but has been a critic of the governor's, contacted the SLED chief after hearing rumors of the governor's disappearance, and got confirmation. In a statement, he said, "I was recently made aware that Governor Sanford has frequently been eluding SLED agents and disappearing at odd times." Knotts also added that he's concerned that no one has been left in charge, something Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer seemed to confirm, as he's said he hasn't been given the governor's authority.

Update: An interesting new development in the story -- very shortly after the news went national, The State reported that Sanford staff told Bauer's office that they've reached the governor, and that they know where he is and that he's fine. Seems like a remarkable coincidence that, after being incommunicado for days, Sanford's suddenly back in touch just as news of his disappearance becomes a big story, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

Update 2: Another twist -- a statement from a Sanford spokesman that seems to be at odds with much of what had already been reported. In the statement, Joel Sawyer says:

The governor put in a lot of time during this last legislative session, and after the session winds down it's not uncommon for him to go out of pocket for a few days at a time to clear his head. Obviously, that's going to be somewhat out of the question this time given the attention this particular absence has gotten. Before leaving last week, he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach. Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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